Hemangiosarcoma in Dogs

Picture of a Golden Retriever

Hemangiosarcoma is a relatively common type of cancer that tends to affect dogs that are middle-aged. More often than not, the tumor develops in the spleen, but sometimes it can affect other organs, such as the heart, the kidneys, the urinary bladder, the uterus, and even the lungs. 

In today’s article, we’re looking at some facts about this type of cancer, such as its symptoms, how it is diagnosed, whether some breeds are more likely to develop it, and if there are any options in terms of treatment. 

Symptoms

As its name suggests, hemangiosarcoma tends to affect heavily vascularized organs, and so that’s why it commonly affects the spleen. 

Unfortunately, it is an aggressive type of cancer, which means that it tends to spread to other organs very quickly, therefore lowering the chance of survival of most dogs that develop it. 

While the clinical signs can vary depending on the type of organ affected, this type of cancer tends to develop gradually. Some dogs can end up at the veterinary clinic with an enlarged abdomen and a modified general health status, but nothing truly specific indicating a hemangiosarcoma case, at least not clinically.

Although the main tumor might grow slowly, once it develops, it tends to metastasize to other organs fast. 

Some dogs might show lethargy and general malaise one day but be completely fine the next. For this reason, going to the animal hospital at least once or twice a year, especially after your dog has reached the age of 6-7, is extremely important. 

Diagnosis of hemangiosarcoma in dogs

When you bring your dog to the vet, they might perform a number of initial tests to try and tell just what is wrong with your pet. 

These can range from a CBC to biochemistry, and once specific markers are discovered, the vet can recommend special methods of examination like an ultrasound, an X-ray, or MRI, and a biopsy for telling exactly the kind of tumor your dog has. 

Making sure that the diagnosis is accurate is extremely important as the treatment will be chosen depending on this. Since hemangiosarcoma is a highly aggressive type of tumor, its malignancy and development stage need to be assessed. 

If the tumor is discovered in an incipient stage, your dog might need to have their spleen removed, or the mass in the liver or whatever organ and the neoplasm might not come back. 

Treatment 

When it comes to all types of cancer, there are three main therapies that vets consider and choose also depending on your decision, as the pet’s owner. These are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy has improved a lot in the past years, and while some medications are still quite aggressive, they have fewer side effects than they used to. 

Radiation therapy can be extremely effective, but it can be painful for the animal, and so pet parents might feel wary of choosing it. 

In most cases, hemangiosarcoma (especially when caught early) is treated using surgery and chemotherapy, which is called combination therapy.

Depending on the development of the neoplasm, sometimes pet owners might choose to avoid any type of therapy. In that case, the veterinarian will recommend an oncologist that can prescribe and recommend medication for the dog’s pain, especially in the later stages of cancer. 

Given that dogs that are treated with surgery and chemotherapy can sometimes have just 6 to 7 months in life expectancy, sometimes it might make more sense to spare the dog all of these procedures, especially since in senior animals, it will take more for them to recover from the operation or from each chemotherapy session. 

It all comes down to what you feel is right for your dog. Euthanasia is a difficult topic, and no one wants to think about it, but sometimes, it can be the only humane way of ensuring that a dog doesn’t have to suffer anymore, especially when they’re in extreme pain, and they don’t have a good life expectancy at all. 

How much does treating hemangiosarcoma in dogs cost?

It depends on every veterinary professional, but treating cancer, in general, and hemangiosarcoma, in particular, can be quite expensive. Surgery can set you back at least $5,000, and that might not even include all the tests that were performed as part of the diagnostic process. 

Post-op treatment can be quite pricey, too, and the sessions tend to add up. Before you know it, you might spend more than several thousand dollars. 

The reason we decided to add a section about the costs is that some pet owners can go into serious debt if they are not prepared with some savings or if they have no pet insurance at all. 

Can hemangiosarcoma be prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no way of preventing cancer at this time, especially since it can be caused by a variety of factors, from chemicals and food additives to smoke, ultraviolet radiation, and oncogenic viruses. 

What types of dog breeds are more predisposed to developing hemangiosarcoma?

The three breeds that are more likely to develop this type of cancer are the following:

If you are the owner of one of these dog breeds, getting your pet screened for cancer twice a year, not to mention other diseases they are prone to (like hip dysplasia, for example) can save your dog’s life. 

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