Despite their relatively short life spans, the incidence of cancers and tumors in dogs is rapidly rising. There are many different types of cancer that can occur in dogs, and treating dog cancer effectively is dependent on what kind of cancer the dog has, and how quickly it is identified.
Skin tumors are an extremely common type of cancer in dogs. As they age, dogs frequently develop lipomas, which are tumors beneath the skin comprised of fat deposits. Many dogs will develop an array of lipomas as they age, but these fatty deposits cannot be identified as benign (non-cancerous) lipomas by look or feel alone. Any mass that develops on your dog should be tested for cancer via a “needle aspirate” or “biopsy”. This procedure takes a sample of the cells within the mass, and a microscopic evaluation is then performed to diagnose the type of mass. If the result comes back as benign, they often do not even necessitate removal, so long as they are not causing pain or discomfort to the dog due to their size or location.
Common types of Skin Tumors in Dogs
Aside from lipomas, another common type of skin tumor in dogs is the Mast Cell Tumor (MCT). Mast Cell Tumors can be difficult to distinguish from other types of benign warts and growths develop on the skin as dogs age, as they can take on the characteristics of many other types of skin lesions. Frequently seen on the head and neck, MCT’s can also be found on the body, legs and even in the mouth.
Because it is impossible to visually distinguish mast cell tumors from other benign skin growths, any new or suspicious growth on your dog should be biopsied. If the tumor is found to be a mast cell tumor, surgical excision is the treatment of choice. Tumors can be much larger under the skin than they appear, so your veterinarian will surgically remove a wide area around the tumor to ensure complete removal of the tumor. Depending on your dogs age and other medical history, your veterinarian may recommend veterinarian may recommend X-rays to ensure there is no other signs of cancer in your dogs body, complete blood work to access his or her overall health, and potentially a consultation with a veterinary oncologist to determine if radiation or chemotherapy might be needed to help control the cancerous cells, and help prevent reoccurrence or spread of the tumor.
Spaying or neutering your dog not only helps to prevent pet overpopulation and unwanted litters, but it is also one of the most effective ways of treating dog cancer- by preventing it entirely.
Mammary tumors, like breast cancer in humans, are cancerous growths that occur in the breast tissue. Mammary tumors are one the most common cancer of female dogs, and these cancers are often fatal. Fortunately, spaying your dog before her first heat cycle reduces her risk of developing mammary tumors to less than 1%, with that number rising exponentially the older they become without being spayed.
Mammary tumors occur within the mammary glands, and may feel soft or hard under the skin. Some cause bruising of the skin around the mammary gland, and more advanced tumors may cause open wounds in the skin surrounding them, or even bleed. While a full half of the mammary tumors that are tested are found to be benign, malignant tumors are very aggressive and can quickly spread throughout the body and become fatal.
If your dog develops a suspicious swelling or mass in the mammary area, prompt medical treatment should be obtained. Your veterinarian may take a fine-needle aspiration of the tumor, which will be examined to determine the type and seriousness of the tumor. Bloodwork will be performed to access the dogs general health, as well as chest X-rays to determine the spread of the disease to the lungs.
Surgical treatment, as common in people as well, is generally a mastectomy, removing the mass as well as the associated mammary gland, or sometimes several of them. Surrounding lymph nodes may be removed as well, if it has been determined they are involved. Spaying your dog at this time may also be recommended, to try and reduce the hormones that cause the tumors to form. Consultation with a veterinary oncologist is also suggested, as chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be recommended, especially if the cancerous cells have spread past the mammary gland.
Like intact female dogs, male dogs that are not neutered are at extremely increased risk of developing prostate and testicular cancers as they age. Prostate cancer is almost only found in unneutered male dogs over 10 years old. Due to the location of the gland and its proximity to many other important structures and nerves, cancer of the prostate is usually inoperable. Prostate cancer is generally not detected until late in the course of the disease, and by the time it is discovered, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are generally the only potential treatments, however neither of these shown to greatly increase the long-term survival of dogs with prostate cancer.
Testicular cancer only occurs in dogs with testicles, therefore neutered dogs have a 0% chance of developing this disease. Surgery, in the form of neutering (to remove the testicles) is the first step in treating this cancer, after which time further work up and or radiation and chemotherapy may or may not be recommended.
There are many types of cancer that can be diagnosed in dogs, and unfortunately many of them do not manifest themselves until they have spread, or tumors have grown enough to cause other major health problems. As a result, the best way to treat dog cancer is to have a good relationship with your veterinarian and have a strong preventative program in place. While many cancers cannot be prevented, routine physical examinations, screening bloodwork and careful attention at home can help to ensure that if your dog does develop cancer, it can be detected and treated early in the disease process, thus increasing your dogs chance of a survival and cure.