Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Consult with Internist and Oncologist

Hi Everyone, mum taking over. Prepare yourself for loooooooooong and booooooooring..... so sorry...

Love nibbles to all,
Miss Sunshade


By Sunshade's mum

I took Sunshade down to Seattle on Wednesday, December 1st to see an Internist for her raging Cushing's Disease, as well as an Oncologist for her Soft Tissue Sarcoma. Kathy, a long time blog friend (mother of Jemma the Chihuahua Princess) so graciously offered to come with me for moral support, and back up in case I blank out during the consult. I have been doing things like putting both contact lenses into the same eye, and paying the cashier $40 at the gas station and then driving away without putting any gas in. So blanking out is not out of the norm for me these days. Derek stayed behind to work and look after my Jaffaman!

Many people have asked me why I have chosen to take Sunshade down to Seattle instead of going to our local specialists clinic 20 minutes away. The short answer is I have had one bad experience with them with Sunshade's first orthopedic surgery in 2001, and have heard many unpleasant stories involving them. The other short answer is I have had nothing but good experiences with specialists from three different specialty clinics in Seattle. I personally feel the veterinary expertise and bedside manner in the States are far more superior than most specialists here in British Columbia. Sunshade deserves nothing but the best.


Cushing's Disease

Our first appointment was with Dr. Matt Vaughan at the Seattle Veterinary Specialists to discuss treatment options for Cushing's disease.

If you remember from our posts before, we were trying to avoid the use of the drugs commonly used to treat Cushings disease due to their potentially deadly side effects. However, we have tried the holistic approach to no avail, and now we need the help of conventional medicine to stop the physical deterioration, as well as the personality changes seen in Sunshade resulted from the uncontrolled Cushing's Disease. (Sunshade: mum says I'm not a b*tch anymore and don't like my beach walks.... What's a b*tch? ) (mum: Go ask Jaffa!)

I had chosen Dr. Vaughan as our Internist because through my research, I found out he had a special interest in endocrinology and spent much of his residency involved in research projects focused on canine Cushing’s disease and Diabetes Mellitus. I was delighted to hear that he was on the UC Davis research team that came up with the latest Cushing's treatment protocol that vets/specialists from all over the world are following. Not only was Dr. Vaughan very knowledgeable, he was also extremely genuine. He listened to my every concern, answered all my questions and came up with a treatment plan for Sunshade.

Don't get me wrong, I am still very wary of starting Sunshade on Trilostane (our chosen drug). However, I do feel much better and much more confident to have an experienced specialist on board with us.

Dr. Vaughan might have sensed my worries, as he wrote me a follow up e-mail that evening to basically reiterate what was said during the consult. To me, this shows a specialist who really cares, and is willing to work and communicate with general vets/owners.

Below is Dr. Vaughan's e-mail as well as his report to Dr. Crook (most of you know her as Auntie Janice LOL...),

Hello Elaine,

It was a pleasure to meet you and Sunshade today, hope you made it home OK.

The trilostane will be started at 30mg twice daily and a recheck ACTH stim test is recommended 1-2 weeks after starting therapy. This test needs to be started 3-4 hours after the morning trilostane dose is given (this is the "peak effect" time). The effectiveness of trilostane is based upon test results, but more importantly on resolution of her symptoms. Please keep an eye on these symptoms (thirst, urination, appetite, energy level) as I will be asking you how they compare to pre-treatment levels.

Things to watch for that would indicate too MUCH trilostane would be a lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy or collapse. If you note any of these signs, stop giving any more trilostane and if possible have an ACTH stim test performed ASAP. Prednisone can be started at 10mg twice daily if she is very sick, however stopping trilostane is usually enough.

As we discussed, the starting dose of trilostane is fairly low (1 mg/kg twice daily) and will most likely need to be increased. We also need ot make sure that her signs are not actually worsening on the trilostane and if so the plan would be to switch to Lysodren.

Please don't hesitate to contact me by phone or email if you have any questions or concerns regarding Sunshade or if you have any problems obtaining a prescription of trilostane. I have copied a letter to Dr. Crook below for your records.

Take care,

Dear Dr. Crook,

I saw Sunshade today for evaluation of Cushing’s disease. I did review the recent thoracic radiographs with our radiologist and found no significant changes.

The recent low dose dexamethasone suppression test results and ultrasound findings are consistent with pituitary dependant hyperadrenocorticism. It may be that this began as an increase in cortisol precursors/sex hormones and progressed to involve cortisol, however 40% of dogs with Cushings will have normal cortisol levels on an ACTH stimulation test and so it is possible that this is a variation of "typical" hyperadrenocorticism.

Medical treatment options for the hyperadrenocorticism would include either Lysodren or trilostane. Theoretically, trilostane should (and does) increase some cortisol pre-cursors which can worsen atypical hyperadrenocorticism. That being said, I have had a number of cases that did respond clinically to trilostane despite this. I am also not convinced that this is truly "atypical" hyperadrenocorticism and so I think that a trial of trilostane would be reasonable.

The depressed activity level may be due to elevated cortisol levels or could potentially be related to a pituitary macrotumor. The stumbling may be related to a pituitary mass, however the duration of stumbling signs is quite long (over 1 year) and it would be unusual to not see a more rapid progression of signs if these signs were due to a macrotumor. An MRI could be considered to evaluate the pituitary gland and a recheck neuro consult would be recommended prior to proceeding with an MRI.

The soft tissue sarcoma was not discussed in detail today as there is a pending appointment with an oncologist. I did recommend that if radiation therapy for the sarcoma is considered, an MRI of the brain might be a good idea as a pituitary mass could potentially also benefit from radiation.

The plan is to start trilostane at 30 mg PO BID. This is a relatively low dose and the goal is to slowly increase the dose based upon clinical signs and ACTH stim results (cortisol-only is sufficient). The goal is resolution of clinical signs and a post-stim cortisol between 1-5. An ACTH stim test is recommended 1-2 weeks after starting therapy as well as 1-2 weeks after any dose change. Timing of the ACTH stim test is critical and should be performed 3-4 hours after the morning dose of trilostane. I am more than happy to continue to help with interpretations of lab results and dosage changes if you fax test results to me.

Thank you for the referral. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding this case.


Matt Vaughan, DVM, DACVIM

We plan on starting Sunshade on Trilostane on a Sunday. According to Dr. Vaughan, we'd probably see a response before the end of the week and can test during regular veterinary operation days if necessary.


Cancer - Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Our next appointment was with Dr. Bob Rosenthal at the Animal Cancer Specialists. I had heard many good things about the clinic and Dr. Kari Meleo, the founder of ACC. Unfortunately, she books 3 months in advance. Dr. Rosenthal was new at the cancer center, but not new at practicing oncology and I was very pleased with our appointment.

Just a recap:

November 10th, 2010: jelly bean sized lump removed under local anesthetic from left thoracic region. Biopsy showed Grade 1 Soft Tissue Sarcoma (low mitotic index)

November 17th, 2010: marginal surgery - 3cm X 3 cm skin around the tumour site removed along with some adjacent fat tissue. Pathology showed one plane did not achieve wide margin, all other margins were clear.

I will put the summary of our consult in Q & A format:

Q: Does a successful "clean margin" surgery eliminate the possibility of recurrence?

A: No, clean margin doesn't guarantee no recurrence as we are talking about microscopic level. There will be some residual cancer cells left at the microscopic level.

Q: Does a clean margin surgery reduce the probability of a recurrence?

A: Having a clean margin does technically reduce the recurrence rate by a bit, because you are leaving less cancer cells in. However, it doesn't make a huge difference.

(The answer above was very specific to Sunshade's particular type and grading of the tumour, as well as the fact that all of the margins were clean except one plane. I'm sure the answer would be different if we were talking about a Grade 3 Mast Cell Tumour.)

Q: What is the best method for getting rid of all cancer cells?

A: Radiation is best option to clean up at the microscopic level. The location of Sunshade's tumour site makes it possible to have full range/spectrum radiation without damaging major organs.

Q: How likely is it for Soft Tissue Sarcomas to recur?

A: Recurrence rate to the same site is high due to the locally aggressive nature of this type of tumour. However, the timing for at which a recurrence may happen varies anywhere from 10 days after surgery to months, to years depending on each individual tumour. He told me it is unlikely for Sunshade's particular tumour to return soon given its low mitotic index.

(Janice also talked to the two pathologists that worked on the tissue from the marginal surgery. They gave her an estimate of recurrence at 3-4 years with the dirty margin. Sunshade is 11 right now, 14-15 is very good for an Airedale if I'm being realistic.)

Q: Would the tumour be harder to remove should there be a recurrence?

A: The surgical procedure would yield a bigger wound and the patching job would be a bit tougher as we would be removing yet more skin. However, the removal of the tumour itself should not be more difficult.

Q: If radiation is held off this time around, would future radiation be less effective should the tumour return?

A: Doing radiation the second time around is JUST AS successful as if radiation were performed the first time. It will NOT be less effective at killing the cancer cells.

(Very comforting to learn that.)

Q: Should I choose to have a second margin surgery done, would having a board certified surgeon perform the surgery lead to a higher success rate?

A: The success rate is usually a little higher with board certified surgeons because they tend to be more aggressive. However, it doesn't mean that a general vet practitioner can't be as aggressive.

(He said from the looks of Sunshade's scar, he thought we were being pretty aggressive already given that the tumour was only the size of a jelly bean. So he was sure that the same vet would be just as aggressive with the second surgery.)

In conclusion, Dr. Rosenthal felt that given the type (low metastatic rate, recur at same location) and grading of Sunshade's tumour, radiation is not urgent. While he would recommend radiation for a young dog/healthy dog, he believes Sunshade's Cushing's disease should take priority for now. Great to see an oncologist who is able to look that the whole picture!


My plan right now is to treat the Cushings, and "maybe" do a second margin surgery given that we know where the dirty margin is (which we think we do as Janice marked the tissue sent in with sutures). I will not pursue radiation for now.

Again, I can't say enough good things about the following specialty centers in Seattle. I would highly recommend them to anyone in WA and Western Canada.

Please continue to keep Miss Sunshade in your thoughts, and cross your fingers (and paws) that we don't run into complications with Cushing's treatment.

Thank you again for being in on the ride with us, you have helped "me" more than words can describe!! I feel so much better now that we have a plan and Sunshade can start getting better. I slept for more than 5 hours last night for the first time in the last 3 weeks. Actually, I slept for 12 hours!

Ear scratches to all your fur-kids,
Sunshade's mum


Jed and Abby in MerryLand said...

Hi, Miss Sunshade. We're very glad to read that things are not as dire as your mom had feared. It always helps to have a reasonable plan of action, based on expert evaluation. We're certainly keeping our paws crossed for successful treatment and a full & happy life for you.

Jed & Abby

DawgBlogger said...

I have recently come across an article about pituitary tumor surgery, sounds quite interesting, you might want to check it out

Shannon said...

Sunshade is ultimately a very lucky girl because she has you who is willing and able to do everything possible to ensure her health and well-being. I know how hard and emotionally taxing health crises with our fur kids are. You and her remain in my thoughts.

Duke said...

Fingers and paws remain crossed and so many positive thoughts are coming your way, Sunshade!

Love ya lots,
Maggie and Mitch

houndstooth said...

The answers you got about the sarcoma are really helpful to me! It's nice to know I'm not the only one trying to make tough decisions about what to do right now.

Good luck, Sunshade and Mom!

MTWaggin said...

I know it is hard to have all this stuff happening to Miss Sunshade but I also need to tell you that I have absorbed and shared many of your blog posts and the information you have shared. It is not only helping Sunshade but it is in turn helping many others! Just thought you should know that!

Jake of Florida said...


Thank you for sharing the whole story. We feel much better now too knowing you have a plan -- and that you are actually sleeping again!!!

It's reassuring to find vets who are knowledgeable, truthful, and kind -- you and Sunshade deserve the best!!!

Wirey love from the Boyz and hugs from me and Jack.


NelsonandBoober said...

Sunshade we are so glad to hear all that news from your visit to Seattle. Finally your mum can take a little sigh and get some sleep. Your mum is the best and we are so glad that you have her. Have a great weekend and make sure you have some fun.

My Dog Sam - Ruptured Disk said...

Hi Sunshade's Evil Mum: My dad looks a little better now that he's had a chance to read through everything. Or maybe it's because he's back from the clinic where they took some blood. Everyone here is very hopeful that the Cushings treatment will be successful. We remain ever hopeful. My dad says that you're the absolute best furry kids' mom ever. Can I send you my annoying "brother" Jetta?

NAK and The Residents of The Khottage Now With KhattleDog! said...

We read this last night before bed -

You are very fortunate to have such caring medical resources available -

The points made by them and you are very well thought out -

We'll be thinking very positively for ALL of you!

Khyra and Phyll

brooke said...

Sunshade is a lucky girl to have such a great mom who won't take mediocre for her girl!
Hope her new meds help her cushing's!

The Airechicks said...

Well it might not be exactly what you wanted to hear but it's not bad news.

It's liveable and if you start to feel better it's priceless....

Thank you for sharing....Your Mum loves you sooooo much!!!!

Tell D-Guy & Jaffa - what a male bonding time to have...............

the many Bs said...

that's pretty good news and of course, we are keeping you and Sunshade and Jaffa in our thoughts. we're glad you like the Seattle vets, and as you know, we've had good success at the Animal Surgical Clinic (did you know they moved to north Seattle?) and if we ever need to, we will visit those specialists in Kirkland. we're so glad that they are treating Sunshade well and taking care of you both!


ellen said...

Someone on one of the Airedale Yahoo groups just mentioned the Seattle clinics as being wonderful; maybe check with Lydia? However, it sounds like - as usual - Sunshade's (not) Evil Mum has things well in hand.
I can only imagine the stress you're under dealing with this. Take every offer of help and don't feel badly about it. Tell yourself "Ellen said I have to take care of myself, too."
Lots and lots of AireZen to all of you.

Joey said...

Hi Sunshade's mum - I know who worrying it is... I felt the same when I thought Joey had Cushings. Keep your spirits up, ok?
Geraldine, Jack and Joey

Charlie said...

Your Seattle doctors sound like keepers! Good work sleuthing them out!! Hugs & earscratches & snuzzles from Charlie & me.
- Anne

Unknown said...

That's the spirit Sunshades' mom! "aza aza fighting" as one of the punch line of a korean drama ("full house")

I am so glad that you have found excellent team of people to look after Sunshade. As much as sunshade needs them, they need a healthy mama to take care and love sunshade, too! Take good care of yourself sunshade's mom! I am sending good vibes your way Sunshade, Jaffa and Sunshade's Mom and families!

xoxo Sunshade, giving u an awesome belly rub!

The Luke said...

Let there be no doubt in your mind... the Sunshade is in our foughts and prayers!

And we're about to start the holistic measures you practice!

We support team Sunshade!!!

wif love from the Luke

The Thuglets said...

All paws and everything that can be crossed is crossed here for Miss Sunshade.

Loys of pawsative thoughts an airezen on its way.

Stay positive and strong - believe in The Power of positive thought!

Big Nose Pokes
The Thugletsx