Understanding Sarcoma in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Sarcoma in Dogs

Sarcoma in Dogs: Sarcoma is a type of cancer that develops in connective tissues like fat, muscle, bone, cartilage, and fibrous tissue. In dogs, sarcomas most commonly form in the skin, subcutaneous tissue, and bones.

Soft tissue sarcomas originate in soft tissues like fat, muscle, nerves, and blood vessels. Common types include fibrosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, and malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor. These sarcomas often form firm, painless masses in the limbs, torso, or head and neck region. Without treatment, they can spread to the lungs and other areas.

Osteosarcoma and chondrosarcoma are primary bone tumors in dogs that destroy and weaken the bone. Osteosarcoma most often affects the long bones of large breed dogs. Chondrosarcoma forms in cartilage and usually affects the flat bones like the ribs, skull, and pelvis. Bone sarcomas can cause lameness, swelling, and pain in the affected area.

Sarcoma in Dogs

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact causes of sarcomas in dogs are unknown. However, certain factors may increase the risk:

  • Age: Most sarcomas occur in middle-aged to older dogs.
  • Size: Large and giant breed dogs have a higher risk of bone sarcomas.
  • Genetics: Some breeds like Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers are predisposed to certain types of sarcomas.
  • Exposure to radiation: Previous radiation therapy may increase the risk of sarcoma development.
  • Chronic inflammation or injury: Prolonged inflammation or irritation of connective tissues may play a role in some sarcomas.

With early detection and treatment like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, many dogs with sarcoma can live for several months to years with good quality of life. However, sarcomas tend to be aggressive and often recur, so close monitoring and follow-up care are essential.

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Types of Sarcoma That Affect Dogs

1. Osteosarcoma

Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that affects dogs, typically larger breeds. It causes the cells within the bone to multiply rapidly and uncontrollably. Osteosarcoma most commonly affects the limbs, especially the legs of dogs. Symptoms may include swelling, limping, or bone fractures. Treatment options include amputation of the affected limb, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. With treatment, dogs can live 6-18 months or longer.

2. Hemangiosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma is a malignant tumor of the blood vessels that can affect dogs. It often forms on the spleen, heart, and skin. Symptoms may include weakness, pale gums, abdominal swelling, and collapse. Hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive cancer that spreads rapidly; even with treatment, most dogs survive only 6-8 months. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and medication to control bleeding.

3. Fibrosarcoma

Fibrosarcoma is a cancerous tumor that develops in the fibrous connective tissue. In dogs, fibrosarcoma commonly develops on the legs, tail, and ribs. It appears as a firm swelling or lesion on the skin that grows rapidly. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and amputation. With aggressive treatment, dogs can survive 6-12 months or longer, depending on the stage of the cancer at diagnosis.

4. Other Sarcomas

Other types of sarcoma that can affect dogs include chondrosarcoma (cartilage), leiomyosarcoma (smooth muscle), and rhabdomyosarcoma (skeletal muscle). These sarcomas behave similarly to the others, spreading locally into surrounding tissues and even metastasizing to other areas of the body. Treatment options and prognosis also depend on the location and stage of the tumor at diagnosis. With treatment, average survival times range from 6-18 months.

Signs and Symptoms of Sarcoma in Dogs

1. Abnormal Growths

The most common symptom of sarcoma in dogs is the appearance of abnormal growths or swellings under the skin. These growths may appear rapidly and grow quickly over weeks to months. They are usually firm, immobile masses that do not cause pain. Owners may notice these growths while petting or grooming their dog. It is important to have any abnormal growths examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible, as early detection of sarcomas can improve treatment outcomes.

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2. Non-healing Wounds

Dogs with sarcomas may develop wounds, sores or ulcers that do not heal. These non-healing wounds are caused by the infiltrating cancer cells disrupting the normal healing process. The wound may start as a small cut or abrasion and continue to get larger, wider and deeper over time. Seek immediate veterinary care for any non-healing wound to determine if there are any underlying conditions preventing healing, such as cancer.

3. Lameness or Difficulty Walking

Certain types of sarcomas, such as osteosarcomas (bone cancer) and hemangiosarcomas (cancer of blood vessel walls), can weaken bones or damage blood vessels. This can result in lameness, limping or difficulty walking in affected dogs. If your dog shows signs of lameness or trouble walking, especially if it comes on suddenly, it is important to have them examined by a vet to check for any internal cancers or other conditions.

Early detection of the signs and symptoms of sarcoma can help ensure your dog receives prompt diagnosis and treatment. Be on the lookout for any abnormal growths, non-healing wounds or changes in mobility and have your dog examined by their vet right away if you notice anything unusual. The earlier sarcoma is detected, the better the chances of successful treatment and a good prognosis.

Treatment:

1. Surgery

The most common treatment for sarcomas in dogs is surgical removal of the tumor. The goal of surgery is to completely excise the tumor with clean margins, meaning no cancer cells are left behind. Depending on the location and aggressiveness of the tumor, limb-sparing surgery may be possible. However, in some cases limb amputation may be necessary to fully remove the cancer. The veterinarian will evaluate whether limb-sparing surgery or amputation is the best option based on the prognosis for your dog.

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2. Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy requires multiple treatments over several weeks and can cause side effects such as skin irritation, fatigue, and hair loss. However, radiation therapy may extend survival time and increase the likelihood of a cure.

3. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. It is often used when the sarcoma has already metastasized to other areas of the body. Chemotherapy may be administered orally, intravenously, or through injections. Because chemotherapy affects all rapidly dividing cells, side effects such as nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, and bone marrow suppression may occur. However, chemotherapy has the potential to slow the progression of the disease and provide relief from symptoms.

4. Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. Some immunotherapy treatments for dogs stimulate the immune system in a general way, while others target specific antigens found on sarcoma cells. Immunotherapy is still being studied in dogs, but early results show promise for certain types of sarcomas. The side effects tend to be less severe than radiation therapy or chemotherapy. More research is needed, but immunotherapy may eventually become an important treatment option for canine sarcomas.

Providing palliative care to keep your dog comfortable during and after treatment is also very important. With treatment and care, some dogs with sarcoma can live for a year or more after diagnosis. The prognosis ultimately depends on the type, grade, and stage of the cancer as well as your dog’s overall health. With advances in veterinary oncology, more treatment options are becoming available for dogs with sarcoma and other types of cancer.