July is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month
Bladder cancer is not an uncommon cancer in either people or pets. Somewhere between 1 in 28 to 1 in 84 people will develop the disease. In dogs, two percent will develop the disease, but certain breeds—Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Beagles, and West Highland White Terriers—have a much higher risk of developing bladder transitional cell carcinoma. Of these breeds, Scottish Terriers have the highest risk, with an almost 20-fold increased risk compared with mixed-breed dogs. In addition to breed, another risk factor in dogs is the exposure to herbicides and/or pesticides on lawns.
The signs of bladder cancer in people and dogs, straining to urinate, increased frequency of urination, and blood in the urine, are similar. Because our pets cannot talk to us about symptoms, we often detect bladder cancer at a more advanced stage than in people, making treatment less effective. The Bladder Tumor Antigen (BTA) test may be very useful in screening young dogs in high-risk breeds. The test is very simple, inexpensive and can be performed by most general veterinarians. The test is very sensitive—meaning it is very good at detecting the disease if it exists, but it is not very specific—meaning it is NOT very good at telling us that a positive test actually means that the dog has the disease. However, if Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Beagles, and West Highland White Terriers were routinely screened with the BTA, a negative result would inform the owner with a high probability that the dog is free of bladder cancer at the time of testing.
Bottom line, the best advice for decreasing risk of bladder cancer in your pets is to:
- Restrict their exposure to herbicides and pesticides, if you must use them and your dog is exposed, bathe them as soon as possible.
- Become familiar with the early warning signs of bladder cancer, reporting symptoms to your vet.
- Screen high-risk breeds yearly beginning when they are young as part of a routine check-up.