Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs: Diagnosing And Treating This Aggressive Cancer

Hemangiosarcoma in dogs

Hemangiosarcoma in dogs: Hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive cancer of the blood vessels that often affects dogs. This fast-growing tumor usually develops in the spleen, heart, or liver, though it can appear anywhere blood vessels are found.

The tumors rupture and bleed internally, which can lead to symptoms like weakness, pale gums, collapse, and even sudden death. Sadly, most dogs do not show symptoms until the cancer has already metastasized or spread. By the time a diagnosis is made, the disease is typically advanced.

Veterinarians rely on blood tests, ultrasounds, x-rays, and tissue biopsies to determine if a suspicious mass is hemangiosarcoma. The only way to confirm a diagnosis is through microscopic examination of cells from a tissue sample. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, though even with aggressive therapy, most dogs only live a few months after diagnosis.

Some breeds like German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labradors seem predisposed to developing hemangiosarcoma. Environmental factors may also play a role. Hemangiosarcoma is more common in areas of sun exposure like the abdomen, suggesting UV radiation could be a trigger. Chemical exposure and inflammation are also possible contributors according to some research.

While the prognosis for hemangiosarcoma is often poor, early detection and treatment can help prolong survival and improve quality of life. Look for unusual lumps or swelling, pale gums, weakness, or collapse – if you notice these symptoms in your dog, consult your vet right away for diagnosis and care recommendations to give your canine companion the best chance at overcoming this aggressive disease.

Hemangiosarcoma in dogs

Signs and Symptoms of Hemangiosarcoma

If your dog is showing any of these signs, it’s time for a vet visit. Early diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma is critical.

  • Lethargy or weakness: Hemangiosarcoma can cause internal bleeding, leading to anemia and lack of energy. Your usually active dog seems tired all the time or has trouble with exercise.
  • Swollen abdomen: There may be a buildup of blood in the abdomen from a ruptured tumor or spleen. The belly will look bloated and feel tense or tender.
  • Pale gums: Check your dog’s gums – they should be pink. Pale, white, or gray gums can indicate anemia from blood loss.
  • Collapsing episodes: As tumors rupture and bleed, blood pressure drops and your dog may collapse. They may seem disoriented or weak after an episode. Get to an emergency vet immediately.
  • Loss of appetite: If your dog usually chows down but now picks at their food or skips meals altogether, it could indicate they don’t feel well from internal bleeding or anemia.
  • Coughing or trouble breathing: Hemangiosarcoma in the heart or lungs can lead to fluid buildup that causes coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath. This requires emergency care.
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The only way to confirm a diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma is with a biopsy. Your vet will start with blood tests, imaging scans like x-rays or ultrasounds, and may do an exploratory surgery to visually check for tumors and take samples for biopsy. Early diagnosis gives you the best chance to pursue treatment options to slow the progression of this aggressive cancer and keep your dog as comfortable and happy as possible.

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Treatment Options for Canine Hemangiosarcoma

Once your vet has diagnosed your dog with hemangiosarcoma, you’ll need to explore treatment options to determine the best approach based on your dog’s condition and your own needs. The three main options are surgery, chemotherapy, and palliative care.

1. Surgery

If the tumor is localized, surgery to remove it may be recommended. The goal is to remove the entire tumor and surrounding tissues to prevent regrowth. While surgery cannot cure hemangiosarcoma, it can buy your dog valuable time by slowing the progression. The procedure does come with risks, so discuss the pros and cons with your vet.

2. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to target any remaining cancer cells after surgery. It may also be used alone or in combination with surgery. While chemo cannot eliminate hemangiosarcoma, it can slow the growth and spread, extending your dog’s survival time. The specific drugs and treatment plan will depend on your dog’s condition. Side effects like nausea or diarrhea are usually manageable with medication.

3. Palliative Care

If your dog’s cancer has progressed too far for surgery or chemo, palliative care focuses on easing pain and discomfort. Your vet may prescribe steroids or NSAIDs to reduce inflammation and pain. You’ll also want to monitor your dog closely for ruptured tumors, anemia or fluid buildup. Palliative care aims to ensure the highest quality of life for the time your dog has left.

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The prognosis for most dogs with hemangiosarcoma is 3 to 6 months. However, with aggressive treatment, some dogs can survive 12 months or longer. No matter which options you choose, be sure to spoil your dog with love, treats, play and anything else that makes them happy. Though the road ahead is difficult, staying positive and making the most of the time you have left together can make a world of difference.

FAQs

Hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive form of cancer found in dogs. As with any cancer diagnosis, you likely have many questions. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about hemangiosarcoma and how it’s diagnosed and treated.

What are the symptoms of hemangiosarcoma?

Some common symptoms of hemangiosarcoma include:

  • Lethargy or decreased activity
  • Pale gums or mucous membranes
  • Abdominal swelling or fluid buildup
  • Loss of appetite
  • Collapse or weakness

These symptoms occur because hemangiosarcoma tumors commonly form in the spleen, heart, and tissue lining blood vessels, which can then rupture and cause internal bleeding. Seek emergency vet care immediately if your dog shows any of these symptoms.

How is hemangiosarcoma diagnosed?

Diagnosing hemangiosarcoma typically involves:

  • A physical exam to check for an enlarged spleen or fluid in the abdomen
  • Blood tests to check for anemia and internal bleeding
  • Radiographs (x-rays) or ultrasounds to look for tumors or fluid buildup
  • CT scans or MRIs for a more detailed view
  • Biopsy to examine tumor cells and confirm the diagnosis

What treatment options are available?

The most common treatments for hemangiosarcoma include:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor(s) and spleen. This can prolong survival but the disease often returns.
  • Chemotherapy using doxorubicin or other drugs to kill remaining cancer cells. This is often used after surgery but can also be used alone.
  • Radiation therapy to shrink tumors. This is not very effective for hemangiosarcoma.
  • Immunotherapy or targeted drug therapy, which are newer options still being studied.
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The prognosis for hemangiosarcoma depends on how early it’s caught and the treatment options selected. With aggressive surgery and chemotherapy, average survival time is 4-6 months. Some dogs live 6-18 months or longer with treatment. Sadly, most dogs will eventually succumb to this disease due to its aggressive nature. The best way to improve prognosis is by catching it early through regular checkups and monitoring your dog for any symptoms.

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