Radiation Therapy Extends Quality of Life for Sadie Sue

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

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Sadie Sue pictured

Sadie Sue, the 10-year-old mixed-breed dog, is a lovable patient at the Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

“If you need something done on Sadie Sue, just rub her belly. It’s her kryptonite,” said Kayla Winchester, RVT, radiation oncology technician at the Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH). Sadie Sue, a cheerful ten-year-old mixed-breed dog, prefers to be examined while lying flat on her back, which earns her plenty of belly rubs while she undergoes treatment for cancer.

Sadie Sue was adopted by Joe Nickerson and Mary Fielding of Greencastle, Ind. in January 2013. In August 2014, she was referred to the VTH because of squamous cell carcinoma in her upper jaw.

“The conversation I usually have with my clients is that four to six months of relief is a reasonable goal for palliative radiation therapy,” said Dr. Jeannie Plantenga, associate professor of radiation oncology and head of the radiation oncology service in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “Then I have patients like Sadie Sue who just keep going. She exceeded all of our educated guesses for her prognosis.” Kayla added, “Typically palliative radiation therapy will buy six months or so of good quality of life, but Sadie Sue didn’t read that textbook… it’s been four years since her cancer diagnosis.”

Kayla Winchester pictured with Sadie Sue

Radiation Oncology Technician Kayla Winchester, RVT writes on Sadie Sue’s chart while Sadie expectantly lays on her back, waiting for attention.

Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses rays of intense energy to kill cancer cells. The goals depend on the location, extent, and type of cancer being treated. Clients whose pets have advanced or invasive cancer may opt for palliative radiation therapy to shrink or stabilize the cancer with minimal side effects. In patients with less advanced disease, radiation therapy can be used with a curative approach either alone or to eliminate microscopic cancer following surgery.

The VTH radiation oncology team treats cancer with conformal radiation, utilizing a method called Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT). With IMRT, radiation dose is maximized in the tumor, and minimized in important nearby structures like the eyes, brain, or spinal cord. Patients with multiple cancer sites can receive treatment at more than one site in the same treatment plan. Traditional radiation techniques delivered doses of radiation to a less specific area, which often led to unwanted side effects. According to Dr. Plantenga, lowering doses in surrounding normal tissue by means of IMRT results in a tremendous reduction in unwanted side effects for the patient.

IMRT treatment plan pictured for Sadie Sue

This IMRT treatment plan shows the location of Sadie Sue’s tumor and the radiation treatment fields designed to deliver the radiation dose based on location and depth in the body.

In 2014, Sadie Sue stayed at the VTH for five days, receiving daily radiation treatment. Afterwards, she was symptom-free and remained so until February 2016, when she developed signs indicating that, as expected, the cancer had returned. Histopathology results confirmed that the cancer was squamous cell carcinoma. Sadie Sue also had a mast cell tumor above her right eye. Since the first round of treatment two years earlier had extended Sadie Sue’s quality of life significantly, her owners opted for additional radiation therapy. The radiation team treated both sites, using IMRT to precisely target the dose of radiation to both tumors at the same time.

Veterinary Technician Brittney Rhodes pictured with Sadie Sue and veterinary students

With help from veterinary students (left-right) Michelle Jang and Genevieve Lockerby, and Diagnostic Imaging Technician Brittney Rhodes, RVT, Sadie Sue happily lays on her back for imaging when belly rubs are involved.

Since then, Sadie’s Sue’s condition has stabilized and she continues to show few signs that she is living with a cancer diagnosis. “Our goal from the beginning was to shrink the original mass and stabilize the growth for some time, as well as to keep Sadie comfortable as long as possible,” said Dr. Plantenga. “Quality of life is very important when we choose appropriate cancer treatments. We can manage cancer as a chronic disease, so it has minimal effect on their quality of life. How long that means depends on so many factors: the kinds of cancer, the location, whether the tumor spreads into other areas, and more,” explained Dr. Plantenga. “Sadie Sue is the poster child for the idea that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t equal a death sentence.”

Walking through the hospital, it seems like everyone knows Sadie Sue. Because she is seen by a number of clinical teams, including diagnostic imaging, anesthesiology, ophthalmology, and soft tissue surgery, Sadie Sue has become well-known throughout the course of her treatment, and is happy to consent to belly rubs from veterinarians and veterinary nurses.

“Whenever Sadie Sue is in the clinic, we always track her down to give her lots of hugs and love,” said Kayla. “She is a wonderful example of how radiation oncology can improve clinical outcomes, and how everyone in the hospital works together to provide all the care needed to keep our patients as healthy as they can be.”

Writer(s): Lauren Bruce |

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