Every year, millions of pets are diagnosed with cancer.
The Comprehensive Cancer Care Program, currently led by the program’s Section Chief Erika Krick, is a new program developed by the School of Veterinary Medicine to try to help pets and their owners fight through cancer.
“We really wanted to be able to offer comprehensive care to our patients,” Krick said. “The owners [now] have the ability to talk to all the experts there in … one appointment.”
“Cancer is a scary diagnosis,” Krick, who is also an assistant professor of Medical Oncology at Penn Vet, said. By changing the way that clients interact with doctors from different departments, such as surgeons, radiation oncologists and other experts, the program is able to make it easier for pet owners to deal with such a diagnosis.
The program was started in late October due to increasing competition from local clinics that opened in recent years. This offered Penn Vet a new way to attract pet owners.
“We really wanted to set ourselves apart,” Krick said.
Under the new cancer program, when pet owners get a diagnosis, or even suspect that their pet has cancer, they can get an appointment at the school’s clinic. Generally, a fourth-year vet student greets them and takes the history of the pet. The student then talks to the clinician to come up with a plan, and they both discuss options for treatment with the owner.
“[We] do whatever tests we need to do that day, and surgery can often be done the next day,” Krick said. Radiation and chemotherapy can also be scheduled as soon as the following day.
Penn Vet students can also benefit from the changes in the program as they can now learn about the whole process. In the past, vet students only focused on one aspect of treatment, such as radiation, and were not able to follow the cases to the end. Students at the clinic now work through all the stages from diagnosis to treatment, much like what they will do after graduation.
“The students like that [the clinic is] more like what’s going to happen in the real world” outside of school, Kirck added.
Kelsey Hafer, a fourth-year Penn Vet student working towards her VMD, is excited about the opportunities offered by the program.
“As students, we see the new cases,” and then follow the case through, Hafer said. From the student’s end, the program gives them more access to specialists across different departments, she added.
The Comprehensive Cancer Care program is unlike any clinics in the area, although it is modeled on work being done at peer institutions in Florida and Colorado.
From the moment a pet owner receives an initial diagnosis to the final stages of treatment, “[we can] be there for the whole experience,” Krick said.