Oncology team discussing a case
From left: Dr. Chad Johannes, Dr. Michael Nolan and Dr. Meg Musser talk in the oncology treatment area. Photo: Christopher Gannon

Tackling Cancer

When Dr. Chad Johannes came to Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine three years ago, he did so with a single purpose.

Along with Dr. Leslie Fox, he wanted to build a regional comprehensive pet cancer center. This summer they will realize the initial phase of that mission when the radiation oncology treatment facility opens at the Hixson-Lied Small Animal Hospital.

To reach this stage, the hospital’s Oncology Service had to build a critical mass – quickly. Another board-certified oncologist, Dr. Meg Musser, was hired, and the service added an oncology resident with a second resident to join the team in July. The service’s veterinary technician, Rachael Rail, rounds out the team, handling patient care, helping veterinary students and the oncologists, as well as client care. 

With the addition of radiation therapy, the Iowa State Oncology team will partner with Dr. Michael Nolan, radiation oncologist at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Nolan will help plan radiation treatments for patients at ISU. 

“We’re excited to be able to offer radiation therapy as a treatment option, in addition to surgery and chemotherapy,” said Johannes, veterinary internist and oncologist. “Iowa State will be one of the few veterinary colleges in the Midwest with stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT).”

SRT is a non-invasive, nonsurgical treatment that delivers high doses of precisely focused radiation to destroy a tumor with minimal damage to nearby tissue. “SRT typically involves one to four treatments, with manageable side effects; allowing good quality of life,” said Johannes.

SRT isn’t an option for every cancer. “Usually SRT is an option for solid tumors, in areas that aren’t candidates for surgery, such as inoperable brain tumors or nasal tumors,” Johannes adds.

Patients referred to the Oncology Service undergo a complete evaluation to determine the best treatment options. In some situations, there may be a couple treatment options; in others, there may only be one.

Sometimes, says Johannes, patients are eligible for clinical trials. “We typically have one or two ongoing trials. Long-term we want to enhance our trial capabilities.

“Our team is very client- and patient-focused,” Johannes continued. “We’ve developed client education sheets on the most common types of veterinary cancer, and try to help clients process a huge amount of information about a scary topic.”

The team’s motto: Treat every pet as if it is your own. And, at Iowa State’s Oncology Service, they do. “Our team is dedicated to helping patients live a longer, quality life. Clients see that there’s a team approach to helping their pet. They aren’t alone in this journey.”