A veterinary oncologist is a veterinary specialist who is focused on the treatment and management of cancer in pets. To become a specialist, these veterinary oncologists went through many years of training beyond veterinary school and then passed tests to demonstrate their knowledge of oncology. Out of over 80,000 veterinarians in the United States, there are only about 280 medical oncologists and 80 radiation oncologists.
Veterinary oncologists practice at both at veterinary colleges and in private practices throughout the country. They see patients that are “referred” to them by general veterinary practitioners. That is, when a small animal veterinarian has a pet with cancer, they often send them or refer the patient to a veterinary oncologist to get special treatment.
When the new patient arrives, the veterinary oncologist will work up the case by taking a “history”, performing an exam and doing additional diagnostic tests to determine the type and extent of the cancer. From that diagnosis, a veterinary oncologist will meet with the client to discuss the best therapeutic option for each patient.
Today’s veterinary oncologists have a number of therapeutic options for treating cancer in pets including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and cryotherapy.
Growing up in Lexington, Kentucky, Dr. Tracy LaDue always wanted to be a veterinarian. “I honestly cannot tell you at what age or what it was that made me say I wanted to be a vet” she says. “I can honestly tell you that I have wanted to be a veterinarian as long as I can remember.” For her colleague, Dr. Jennifer Locke, the story is a little different.
“The time when I first realized I wanted to be a veterinarian was a time when I was five years old and my own dog had puppies in our laundry room in a laundry basket.”
“The time when I first realized I wanted to be a veterinarian was a time when I was five years old and my own dog had puppies in our laundry room in a laundry basket.” Dr. Locke says. “It was an amazing thing. It made me think. Wow! Working with animals is great. And that started my fascination and love for working with animals.”
Today, Drs. LaDue and Locke are fulfilling their childhood dreams. As veterinary oncologists at Southeast Veterinary Oncology and Internal Medicine, they both focus their day on the treatment and management of cancer in patients. “We treat cancer in veterinary patients like dogs and cats.” Dr. LaDue says. “I’ve treated a snake before, and also pocket pets like hamsters, and mice. We see any species.”
When asked to describe what they do, Dr. Locke says “When we see a patient with cancer, one of our first jobs is to find out where the cancer is. Cancers have the ability to start in one place in the body and spread to some other place in the body. So our job is to be the detective.” She adds “We must make sure we know exactly where a cancer is or where q tumor is and we find out, using all kinds of special tricks, how a cancer has developed and where it is”.
“I wanted to be a veterinarian because it was my way to interact with people on a deeper level than I would have otherwise.” Dr. LaDue says. “I love how I get to see how the pets have changed peoples lives.” Dr Locke adds “We really get to know not only our patients really well but develop a really special and close bond with our clients. We feel like a big family here and that’s really cool to me. Everybody I work with is a member of my family.”
In this video, you’ll go behind the scenes and follow Drs. LaDue and Locke as they care for their cancer patients at Southeast Veterinary Oncology. You’ll see them as they examine patients and perform diagnostic tests such as radiographs and ultrasounds. You also see them as they treat their patients with chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy.
Throughout the video, the doctors will introduce you to veterinary oncology by explaining the procedures they are performing and what they are for.