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What to Do When Your Dog is Diagnosed with Cancer: Treatment, Prognosis, and Costs

By David F. Kramer

Few diagnoses in the veterinary world bring more pain to a dog owner than one simple word: cancer. The mind instantly goes to the perceived harshness of chemotherapy, surgery or radiation treatments, the likelihood of remission, and the possibility of losing the battle altogether. And while conditions such as kidney and heart disease can be more difficult to treat and have a poorer chance of survival than some types of cancer, this doesn’t stop the specter of cancer from casting a dark shadow over your pet and family.

An obvious first question to a diagnosis of cancer in our dogs is simply, why? The truth is that there is often no definitive reason. While some cancers are more common in certain breeds and in a few cases, causative links to specific genes or toxins have been identified,  for the most part luck plays the biggest role in determining whether or not your dog may one day be afflicted.

RECOGNIZING THE SIGNS OF CANCER IN DOGS

According to Veterinary Oncologist Dr. MJ Hamilton of Crown Veterinary Services in Lebanon, NJ, there are many signs that could be indicative of cancer. “Usually, we’ll see big changes at home. So things like decreased mobility, lethargy, changes in appetite, collapse, or inability to urinate,” says Hamilton. The specific symptoms that a dog develops depends on the type of cancer involved, where it is located, and how far it has progressed.

Hamilton, says a diagnosis of cancer comes from further testing. “Usually it’s during a workup that you’ll find it; either through an ultrasound, biopsy, or cytology.”

TREATING CANCER IN DOGS

When it comes to treating dogs with cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are typically recommended either alone or in combination. Veterinary medicine has made some recent strides in other treatments, such as immunotherapy or antibody therapy, but these are less prevalent than the first line treatments.

The course of your dog’s treatment will be determined by your veterinarian or veterinary oncologist, and will depend on the type of cancer, as well as other factors. Whenever it is feasible, surgery to physically remove as much of the cancer as possible is usually part of treatment. Surgery may be the only type of therapy that is recommended, or it will be performed before or after chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

While chemotherapy is a blanket term for using drugs to combat disease, such treatments for cancer come in several forms. According to Dr. Joanne Intile, staff oncologist at the East End Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center in Riverhead, NY, chemotherapy can be administered orally, intravenously, topically, subcutaneously, intramuscularly, intratumorally (directly into a tumor), or intracavitarily (into a body cavity).

Chemotherapy can be adjuvant: used after a tumor is removed in the hopes of killing the remaining or residual cancer cells; neoadjuvant: which is used prior to surgery to reduce the size of an existing tumor; or induction: which is used to hopefully bring about a remission for specific types of blood borne cancers.

The majority of dogs treated with chemotherapy don’t suffer much in the way of serious side effects. Most dogs will not lose their fur during chemotherapy, but some breeds (those with continuously growing haircoats like Poodles and Old English Sheepdogs) might experience some thinning of hair. Your dog might also experience temporary diarrhea or vomiting and have less of an appetite. Bone marrow suppression is another worry with chemotherapy treatments because it can lead to anemia and/or increased risk of infection. But these types of side effects are typically treatable. The Clinical Oncology Service at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania estimates that the chance of “severe side effects… is estimated to be less than 5% of all pets receiving chemotherapy. With proper management, most animals recover uneventfully within a few days.”

Your vet will keep track of your dog’s progress through regular examinations, bloodwork, and discussions with you regarding what you observe at home. He or she may make changes in the dosage or choices of drug that are used for treatment based on how your dog responds to them.

Depending upon the type of cancer and how it is affecting your dog, your vet may recommend radiation therapy rather than chemotherapy.

Dr. Rick Chetney Jr., of VRC in Malvern, PA, is a veterinary oncologist who specializes in radiation treatments to fight cancer. “Radiation therapy is a localized therapy, like surgery,” says Dr. Chetney.

“It’s often used for tumors that we can’t surgically remove because they’re up against necessary structures such as the heart or brain. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment—once we inject it, it goes all throughout the body battling microscopic disease when it starts spreading to other locations. Again, radiation is more localized.”

“A definitive radiation therapy protocol is given once daily—usually with between 16 and 20 daily treatments—so it takes about three or four weeks,” says Dr. Chetney. “An individual treatment takes about an hour and a half to two hours, and most of that time is spent waiting for the patient to become sleepy from the sedative, and then later to recover from the anesthesia. The treatment itself only takes about 5-10 minutes.”

Animals are given varying levels of sedation for radiation treatments, mainly to keep them still. There’s no direct pain from the radiation treatment itself although some discomfort, skin problems, or fatigue may be associated with its effects.

If you live close to your treating oncologist, you might be able to bring your dog to its daily radiation treatments. If distance is an issue, the animal can be boarded during the week for treatments and be permitted to go home to recuperate over the weekend. 

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO TREAT A DOG FOR CANCER?

Once a cancer diagnosis is determined, among the first considerations is cost. Even with research into this topic, you may find very little definitive information. Consulting with your vet or oncologist will certainly help get you a ballpark figure, but he or she may be hesitant to nail down a specific figure since it’s impossible to predict just how your dog will respond to treatment. 

Veterinary insurance is an option and many types cover cancer treatment (most likely partially)—but as is the case with people, rules concerning pre-existing conditions will generally prevent you from getting coverage once your dog has been diagnosed. Your veterinary oncologist will lay out a treatment plan and proposed rate, but there are many factors that can affect the eventual cost.

“It varies wildly, and it’s something I really can’t answer,” says Hamilton. “There are some cancers that are very affordable and inexpensive to treat, and others that really start to add up. Some cancers can be a couple hundred dollars a month, and others that start to add up into the thousands before you’re done. Everything is completely customized to that pet, what we know, and what the wishes of the family are.”

According to the National Canine Cancer Foundation, an initial visit to confirm a cancer diagnosis can be upwards of $200. Major surgery to remove a cancerous tumor deep inside the body, or that will require reconstruction, can start at $1,500. Chemotherapy treatments might range from $200 to $2,000, depending upon the type and severity of the cancer. Radiation therapy can range from $2,000 to $6,000 or higher. You will also need to factor in additional medications that might be needed—such as pain relievers or antibiotics—which could cost another $30 to $50 per month for an indefinite period.

NATURAL REMEDIES AND DIET FOR DOGS WITH CANCER

During and after treatment for cancer, dog owners might be tempted to look to the East for a different approach to medicine. One veterinarian who uses the Eastern approach is Dr. Patrick Mahaney of Los Angeles, CA, who specializes in natural and alternative treatments for pets. According to Mahaney, this type of pet care is imperative before, during, and after a cancer diagnosis.

“It’s crucial that all veterinarians and pet owners be attuned to whole-body health, especially when a pet is diagnosed with cancer and is going through surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy,” says Mahaney. “What’s not totally addressed in the veterinary oncology community is nutrition. We’re so dependent on processed, commercially available pet foods, primarily kibble, and really it’s not the ideal thing for any pet to eat. It’s fairly simple to make dietary changes to a whole-food based diet that can really benefit whole-body health.”

Mahaney is dubious of the current state of most available pet foods that make up the multi-million dollar pet food industry. It all begins, he says, with the concept of “feed grade” products that are welcome for animals, but judged unsuitable to be fed to humans. Mahaney believes in a life-long pet diet that consists of whole and human grade foods.

“Whole food feeding is key. Human grade ingredients have lower thresholds for certain substances that can be toxic—even carcinogenic. Mold-produced toxins (called mycotoxins), including aflatoxin and vomitoxin, can irritate the intestines, suppress the immune system, and are carcinogenic (cancer causing). You want to be sure that while your pet is being treated that their food is not going to further contribute to cancer,” he says.

While a diagnosis of cancer in your dog is by no means a certain death sentence, it’s sure to be a stressful time for both dogs and their families. Your veterinarian and veterinary oncologist will work with you to give you options for treatment and help walk you through any difficulties that come with it.

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Tumor Related to Vaccinations in Dogs

Vaccine-associated Sarcoma in Dogs

Most types of injectable vaccine and non-vaccine products have rarely been associated with sarcoma development in dogs, but some dogs may develop a site specific sarcoma following rabies vaccination. In fact, reports of a sarcoma (a cancerous mass arising from bone, cartilage, fat or muscle) developing at the site of vaccine injection sites in some animals have led to the suspicion of a link between the vaccine and a disposition in some animals to this type of reaction.

These tumors are characterized as highly invasive, rapidly growing, and malignant. Metastatic (spreading) rates are reported to be 22.5 to 24 percent. Often, the cancer spreads to the lungs, but it may spread to the regional lymph nodes and to the skin as well.

The cause for the sarcoma development is unknown, but it is believed that local inflammation must first occur for the malignant mass to follow. In addition, initial reports focused on vaccine adjuvants (assisting ingredients) containing aluminum as a potential cause of the sarcoma. However, the role of aluminum is unclear because not all adjuvants used in the vaccines that have been associated with sarcoma formation have contained aluminum.

Symptoms and Types

Lesions occur at the site of the vaccination, persisting and/or growing in size. In the advanced stages, the lesions will become fixed and occasionally ulcerated.

Causes

Vaccination with the rabies vaccine appears the be the underlying cause of this type of sarcoma. Moreover, the risk of developing the tumors may increase with the frequency and number of vaccinations given.

Diagnosis

You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. Your veterinarian will order a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel.

To assess the spread of cancert, X-ray imaging of the chest and abdomen should be done. Computed tomography (CT) images with contrasting agents, meanwhile, is used because the agents enable to veterinarian to examine the area more readily.He or she can then record the location, shape, and size of all masses occurring at the injection sites.

Masses at vaccination sites that persist for longer than three months, are larger than two centimeters in diameter, or increase in size one month after the injection should be biopsied. Advanced lesions should also be biopsied prior to definitive treatment.

sarcoma

A type of neoplasm that occurs in connective tissue

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

radiation therapy

A treatment of certain neoplasms that is administered using an x ray

malignant

Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads

lymph nodes

Small structures that filter out the lymph and store lymphocytes

disposition

An animal’s attitude or temperament

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Tumor of the Meninges in Dogs

Meningioma in Dogs

Meningioma is the most common brain tumor in dogs. It affects a system of membranes that envelops the brain and spinal cord called the meninges. These tumors compress adjacent tissues and may lead to swelling in the affected regions. All breeds are at risk of meningioma, but it is usually seen in dogs older than seven years of age.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms vary depending upon the location of tumor, but some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Seizures
  • Visual deficits
  • Abnormal behavior or mental state
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Neck or back pain

 

Causes

The underlying cause for meningioma is currently unknown.

Diagnosis

You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, including the onset and nature of the symptoms, to your veterinarian. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination as well as a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count — the results of which are typically normal. For further analysis, your dog’s veterinarian will also take a sample of cerebrospinal fluid, a protective and nourishing fluid that circulates around the brain and spinal cord.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Computed Tomography scan are the two most valuable tools for identification of lesions and its localization. Although tissue biopsies are also frequently used to diagnose meningioma.

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

radiation therapy

A treatment of certain neoplasms that is administered using an x ray

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

meninges

The term for the connective tissue around the brain and spine

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Transitional Cell Carcinoma of the Urinary Tract in Dogs

Transitional Cell Carcinoma of the Renal, Bladder and Urethra in Dogs

Transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) is a malignant (aggressive)  and metastasizing (spreading) cancer arising from the transitional epithelium – the highly stretchable lining of the urinary tract system – of the kidney, ureters (the tubes that carry fluid from the kidneys to the bladder), urinary bladder, urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside), prostate, or vagina.

Flea-control products (organophosphates and carbamate) and cyclophosphamide are possible causal agents in dogs. In addition, TCC occurs most commonly in female dogs.

Symptoms and Types

  • Straining to urinate
  • Frequent urination of small amounts (pollakiuria)
  • Blood in urine (hematuria)
  • Difficulty urinating (dysuria)
  • Wetting on the floor, furniture, bed, etc. (urinary incontinence)

 

Causes

  • Flea-control products (organophosphates and carbamate) and cyclophosphamide

 

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have led to this condition. You will need to provide a thorough history of your dog’s health leading up to the onset of symptoms. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel. Urine should also be sent for culture and sensitivity testing since a concurrent urinary tract infection is common.

X-rays of the chest and abdomen should be taken to look for possible spread of the cancer. Intravenous pyelography, a procedure that is used to take an X-ray image of the urinary system, will be used to examine the urinary tract, bladder and kidneys. For this procedure, a contrasting dye will be injected into the bloodstream, to be picked up by the kidneys and passed through through the ureters, bladder and urethra. The contrasting dye is visible on the X-ray imaging so that the internal structures can be seen and determined to be functioning normally or abnormally. Other contrast dye procedures that can be used to image the urinary tract may be used, either instead of, or in addition to, a pyelography. They include a  voiding urethrogram (x-rays of dyes as the patient urinates), or vaginogram (X-rays of dyes within the vagina). These latter X-ray techniques are indicated if urethral or vaginal disease is suspected. Double-contrast cystography is the best way to visualize the mass(es) which are normally located at the trigone of the urinary bladder (a smooth triangular area inside the bladder).

For a definitive diagnosis, a biopsy of the mass is the gold standard. Biopsies may be obtained through traumatic catheterization (jamming a catheter into the masses), exploratory laparotomy (abdominal surgery), or cystoscopy (using a small camera with instruments attached). However, ultrasound-guided biopsy is not recommended, because this can easily cause further spreading of the cancer.

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

urethra

A tube found between the bladder and the outside of the body; used to assist in urination.

urinary incontinence

A medical condition; implies that the patient is unable to control their urination.

urinary tract infection

Also referred to as a UTI; a medical condition of the urinary tract and system in which the cells are damaged by microorganisms.

voiding

The process of elimination when it comes to the bowels or the bladder

stricture

A band of tissue that makes a passage narrower

pollakiuria

A medical condition involving frequent urination

dysuria

Having a hard time urinating; pain while urinating

epithelium

A covering of cells that turns into the outermost layer of skin and covers the body

hematuria

Blood in the urine

malignant

Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

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Tongue Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs

Lingual Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Dogs

Dogs can be afflicted with several types of tumors, including in the mouth. Squamous cell carcinomas on the tongue are usually located underneath the tongue, where they attache to the bottom of the mouth. They can be white in color and sometimes have a cauliflower shape. This type of tumor grows and metastasizes quickly to other parts of the body.

A squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) can be described as a malignant and particularly invasive tumor that takes hold in the scale like cells of the epithelium – the tissue that covers the body or lines the cavities of the body. These scale like tissue cells are called the squamous. Carcinoma is, by definition, an especially malignant and persistent form of cancer, often returning after is has been excised from the body and metastasizing to other organs and locations on the body.

As with many types of carcinomas, this is usually seen in older dogs. In this case, older than seven years of age.

Symptoms and Types

Causes

There is no known cause for squamous cell carcinomas on the tongue.

Diagnosis

You will need to provide your veterinarian with a complete medical history leading up to the symptoms. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, taking into account the background history you have provided, along with the current symptoms and possible incidents that might have led to this condition, such as accidental ingestion of a toxic substance that might have led to mouth sores, or other injury to the mouth.

A full visual inspection will be made of your dog’s mouth and tongue, and a sample will be taken from the tumor for laboratory analysis. This is the only assured method for determining whether the tumor is malignant or benign. X-ray images will also be taken of your dog’s head and chest to determine if the cancer has spread into the bones, lungs, or brain. Your veterinarian will palpate your dog’s lymph nodes to check for swelling – an indication that the body is fighting an invasive disease, and a sample of the lymph fluid will be taken to check for the presence of cancerous cells.

Standard tests include a complete blood count and biochemistry profile to make sure your dog’s other organs are functioning normally.

malignant

Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads

radiation therapy

A treatment of certain neoplasms that is administered using an x ray

lymph nodes

Small structures that filter out the lymph and store lymphocytes

epithelium

A covering of cells that turns into the outermost layer of skin and covers the body

dysphagia

Condition in which eating and/or swallowing is difficult

benign

Not being able to cause harm; the opposite of malignant.

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Thyroid Cancer (Adenocarcinoma) in Dogs

Thyroid Gland Adenocarcinoma in Dogs

The thyroid gland is responsible for a variety of bodily functions, most notably the coordination of hormones and normal metabolism. A particularly malignant form of cancer, carcinoma is characterized by its ability to spread quickly throughout the body. Adenocarcinoma is differentiated only in that it originates in the glandular tissue. Adenocarcinoma of the thyroid gland is a malignant tumor, which can metastasize to other tissue and organs, including the lungs. As iodine is essential for the thyroid to function normally, this neoplasm has been found to be more prevalent in iodine-deficient areas.

Although any breed may be affected, boxers, beagles, and golden retrievers have been found to be at higher risk than other breeds of dogs. Like other carcinomas, it is most commonly seen in older dogs, but it may also occur in young animals.

Symptoms and Types

Following are the symptoms commonly related to adenocarcinoma of the thyroid:

  • Large fixed or movable mass over dog’s trachea covering larynx
  • Dypnea (difficult breathing)
  • Dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing)
  • Weight loss
  • Dysphonia (hoarseness)
  • Polydipsia (increased thirst)
  • Polyuria (increased amount and/or frequency of urine passing)

Causes

The cause of thyroid adenocarcinoma is still unknown.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, with blood tests, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health and onset of symptoms. The most informative and helpful test is the T4 (thyroxine) and/or free T4 concentration determination. Thyroxine is a primary hormone produced by the thyroid gland. Its level tends to increase in some patients with adenocarcinoma of the thyroid gland. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) levels will also be determined, along with T4. TSH is another hormone released from the brain which controls the release of T4 hormone. X-ray and ultrasound imaging, computed tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are some of the diagnostic tools your veterinarian can use to confirm the diagnosis and to determine whether the tumor has metastasized. Your veterinarian may also perform a biopsy of the thyroid tissue to see if malignant cells are present in the thyroid gland.

thyroid gland

A gland found in the neck of humans and animals that secretes glands responsible for metabolic rate, calcitonin, and others.

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

trachea

The windpipe; it carries air from the bronchi to the mouth

malignant

Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

hemorrhage

Extreme loss of blood

larynx

The voice box; this is one part of the respiratory system

adenocarcinoma

The result of a malignant growth of the tissue of the epithelial gland.

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Throat Cancer (Chondrosarcoma) in Dogs

Chondrosarcoma of the Larynx and Trachea in Dogs

A chondrosarcoma is one of several types of laryngeal tumors that can effect the larynx and trachea of a dog. This is a relatively rare and fast spreading tumor that originates in the cartilage, a connective collagenous tissue that is found throughout the body.

Over time, this type of tumor progresses, aggressively involving the surrounding tissues. As with many sarcomas, chondrosarcoma of the larynx and trachea is more common in middle aged and older dogs. All breeds are at risk, but males are often at a slightly higher risk than females.

Symptoms and Types

Most symptoms are related to involvement of the larynx, trachea and the surrounding tissues.

  • Changes in voice
  • Loss of bark
  • Harsh, noisy breathing
  • Poor exercise stamina
  • Difficulty in respiration, dog may breath with mouth open
  • Loud noises while breathing
  • Bluish mucous membranes
  • Sudden collapse
  • Difficulty in ingesting food
  • Inability to swallow

Causes

The exact cause is still unknown.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will need a complete background medical history leading up to your dog’s disease symptoms. Routine blood tests include a complete blood cell count, biochemistry profile, urinalysis and platelet count. The results are frequently normal in such cases.

Radiographic studies of the neck and chest can be helpful in confirming the diagnosis, along with imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scans. Another technique your veterinarian may choose is bronchoscopy, by which a tubular device is inserted into the body, in this case through the mouth and down into the windpipe, so that a more detailed visual examination can be conducted. This type of instrument can also sometimes be used to take a sample of tissue for biopsy, alleviating the need for a more invasive presurgical resection at the site.

Samples of fluid from the surrounding area may also be taken, and samples from the lymph nodes may show an abnormal amount of white blood cells, as the immune system reacts to the cancerous tumor.

Radiographs of the area will show whether metastasis has taken place.

platelet

A cell that aids in clotting

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

malignant

Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads

trachea

The windpipe; it carries air from the bronchi to the mouth

larynx

The voice box; this is one part of the respiratory system

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

euthanasia

Inducing death on an animal or putting them to sleep

excise

To remove by surgical methods

anastomosis

A surgical procedure in which two hollow tubes or structures are surgically connected.

lymph nodes

Small structures that filter out the lymph and store lymphocytes

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Testicular Tumor (Sertoli Cell) in Dogs

Sertoli Cell Tumor in Dogs

Sertoli cell tumors are a form of testicular tumor in dogs, and are linked with undescended testicles. Typically, up to 14 percent sertoli cell tumors in dogs are malignant and will metastasize to surrounding lymph nodes in the body and other organs.

Symptoms and Types

The signs and symptoms of sertoli cell tumors include:

  • Skin changes may become apparent
  • One testicle that is larger than the other, with wasting or shriveling of the other testicle
  • Feminization syndrome, a condition where a male dog takes on uncharacteristic female qualities (e.g., dog’s penis may shrivel or shrink in appearance, there may be abnormal breast development, and the dog may adopt a female position to urinate)
  • An abdominal mass may become palpable (found by touch examination) if a testicle has not descended — suggesting that the testicle remained in the abdominal cavity

Causes

Sertoli cell tumors in dogs are usually caused by cryptorchidism, or undescended testicles. Aging male dogs are most likely to develop sertoli cell tumors.

Diagnosis

To diagnose a sertoli cell tumor, your veterinarian will first want to rule out other potential causes for a tumor or mass. These may include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • An interstitial cell tumor (a non-cancerous tumor in the testicle)
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (too much of the hormone cortisol, a stress hormone)
  • Seminoma (a different type of testicular cancer)

Other tests that may help with diagnosis include screening for certain types of anemia (low blood iron), low white blood cell counts, and low blood platelet counts. complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, and a complete blood count.

Dogs with sertoli cell tumors will usually have abnormally high levels of certain hormones, including serum estradiol and progesterone. Typically an animal with a sertoli cell tumor will have some degree of feminization, even if it is only evident at the hormonal level.

platelet

A cell that aids in clotting

progesterone

A hormone that is created at the time of pregnancy

testicle

The sex organ of male animals; used in the production of sperm

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

lymph nodes

Small structures that filter out the lymph and store lymphocytes

anemia

A condition of the blood in which normal red blood cell counts or hemoglobin are lacking.

estrogen

The type of female hormone produced in the ovaries that contributes to sex drive and female characteristics

interstitial

The area inside a given tissue or organ

abdominal cavity

The space in the abdomen that holds the major digestive organs in an animal. Normally referred to as the area between the diaphragm and the pelvis. Also referred to as the peritoneal cavity.

malignant

Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads

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Skin Tumor (Histiocytoma) in Dogs

Histiocytoma in Dogs

A histiocytoma is a benign skin tumor that originates in the Langerhans cells, immune cells that function to provide protective immunity to the tissues that are in contact with the outer environment — the nose, stomach, intestines and lungs, but mainly the skin’s surface. These cells are also referred to as dendritic cells, and histiocytes.

Histiocytomas are common in dogs, with some breeds appearing to be more predisposed that others. These breeds include flat-coated retrievers, bull terriers, boxers, dachshunds, cocker spaniels, Great Danes, and Shetland sheepdogs. More than 50 percent of diagnosed patients are under two years of age. Otherwise, there is no gender difference.

Symptoms

  • Small, firm, dome or button-shaped masses on the skin surface
  • Rare autoimmune blistering (dermoepithelial) masses, which may be ulcerated
  • Fast growing, nonpainful, usually solitary
  • Common sites are the head, ear edges, and limbs
  • Occasionally multiple skin nodules or plaques

Causes

Unknown

Diagnosis

You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health and onset of symptoms, after which your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel. Most of these tests return as normal.

Other diagnostic tests include a cytologic examination (a microscopic examination of the cells) using a sample gathered by fine-needle aspirate. This may reveal pleomorphic round cells (cells taking one or more forms), with variable-sized and -shaped nuclei. It is common to find that the mitotic index (a measure of the proliferation, or fast production status of a cell population) is high. The tests may also show evidence of substantial lymphocyte (white blood cell in the vertebrate immune system), plasma cell, and neutrophil (the most abundant type of white blood cells) infiltration.

malignant

Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

lymphocyte

A type of leukocyte in the body

index

A type of system that is used to compare animals within a given group to one another

benign

Not being able to cause harm; the opposite of malignant.

blistering

The process of putting something irritation onto a blemish in order to get it to go away.

aspirate

a) inhaling b) getting out fluid or gas by the act of sucking.

laser

A type of light device that transfers a bright beam; this is used for many medical purposes

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Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs

Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Dogs

The epidermis, or skin, consists of several layers. The outer layer is made up of scale like cells called the squamous epithelium. This layer of tissue covers the surface of much of the body, and lines the cavities of the body. A squamous cell carcinoma is a type of cancer that originates in the squamous epithelium. It may appear to be a white skin mass, or a raised bump on the skin. Often the raised mass will necrotize in the center and ulcerate, with occasional bleeding.

As carcinomas are characteristically malignant and particularly invasive, it is essential to have this form of skin cancer diagnosed and treated without delay. Cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas are typically fast growing tumors that get bigger with time and resist healing. If the ulcers are diagnosed before they have had an opportunity to become malignant, this condition may be treated effectively in some cases.

Squamous cell carcinomas are seen more in dogs that live at high altitudes and in dogs that spend a lot of time in the sun. Scottish terriers, Pekingese, boxers, poodles, Norwegian elkhounds, dalmatians, beagles, whippets, and white English bull terriers seem to get this kind of skin cancer more that other breeds of dogs. Large breed black dogs are more prone to squamous cell carcinomas on their toes than other types of dogs, and dogs that have light colored skin and hair are more prone to this type of skin cancer than other types of dogs. As with most forms of carcinoma, cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma is most commonly seen in older dogs.

Symptoms and Types

Sores

  • A crusty or bleeding sore on the skin that does not go away with antibiotics or creams
  • Sores that do not heal for several months
  • Sores in areas where the hair is white or light colored

Growths or Tumors

  • White colored growth of skin; mass

Growths in areas where hair is white and skin is light colored

  • Sores or growths may be found anywhere
  • Usually there is just one growth or sore
  • Common locations are the nose, toes, legs, scrotum or anus

Causes

  • Long term exposure to sunlight/UV rays

Diagnosis

You will need to give your veterinarian a thorough history of your dog’s health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition, such as a recent flea infestation that would have left sores from vigorous scratching. Once this history has been detailed, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination on your dog, paying close attention to any growths on the skin or any sores that have not healed in several months. Your dog’s lymph nodes will be palpated to determine if they are swollen, an indication that the body is fighting an invasive disease or infection, and a sample of lymph fluid will be taken for laboratory analysis. The presence of cancerous cells in the lymph glands will be indicative of metastasis through the body. Basic laboratory tests include a complete blood count and biochemical profile to confirm that your dog’s organs are functioning normally.

Because carcinomas are characteristically malignant and metastasize quickly, your veterinarian may also order x-ray images of your dog’s chest and abdomen so that a visual inspection can be made of the lungs and organs. Likewise, if your dog has a tumor on one of its legs, your veterinarian will want to take x-rays of the leg to see if the tumor has spread to the bone underneath it.

Standard biopsies will be taken of the growth or sore. This is the best way to determine exactly what kind of tumor your dog has.

scrotum

The sac that holds the testes; may also be referred to as the scrotal sac

malignant

Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads

epithelium

A covering of cells that turns into the outermost layer of skin and covers the body

anus

The end of the gastrointestinal tract; the opening at the end of the tract.

epidermis

The outside layer of the skin

amputation

The process of removing all or part of a body part; usually refers to a limb (arm or leg) and is done for medical reasons.

lymph nodes

Small structures that filter out the lymph and store lymphocytes