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What Can I Do About My Dog's Breast Cancer Without Surgery?

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Surgery may not be the best option for older dogs with tumors, as recovery time is slower and the risks of using anesthesia increase with age.

Surgery may not be the best option for older dogs with tumors, as recovery time is slower and the risks of using anesthesia increase with age.

How Can I Help My Dog Cancer

"We have a 14-year-old, 13-inch female beagle. She isn't spayed and she never had pups. She has one very large and one not-as-large hard gland (?) by her two back nipples.

She's not sick—eats like always—and you can hold and press on the lumps and she doesn't react. She's short and fat and one is close to the ground. She scratches her tummy on the grass and rugs in our house, so it obviously doesn't bother her.

Her vet told us a few months ago that it appeared to be some sort of tumor but would not operate due to her age and the fact that he would have to remove all her nipples. I'd like another opinion. She is like a child to me. She was given to me 14 years ago as a 6-week-old pup when I was diagnosed with lung cancer, and she has stayed by my side through it all. I want to do the same for her. Please give me your opinion. Thank you!" —Patricia

Mammary Tumors in Dogs

Dogs of her size that were never spayed often present with mammary tumors (breast cancer). About half of them are malignant. (1) From your description it sounds like her tumors are benign, but there is no way to tell that for sure without a biopsy.

When Is Surgery the Right Choice?

The main concern at her age is how long she is going to be around if she does or does not have the tumors removed. If a dog with malignant cancer has tumors removed, they may live another 14 months, give or take. (2) If a dog has benign tumors and they are removed, they may live several years.

However, since Beagles usually live less than 15 years, your dog may only be with you another year no matter what you do.

The veterinarian you saw knew what this was but decided your dog was not a good surgical candidate based on her age and body condition. Since she is still eating and acting normally, I agree with him. If the tumors grow in size and break open so that they become infected, you will have to decide whether or not to go for the surgery.

If you decide you want to spend the money to improve her life in her final year, by all means, do so. She will need to have presurgical bloodwork and will need to be under general anesthesia first.

She may heal more slowly due to her age, so if the tumors stay like they are, you should focus on enjoying your time with her.


(1) Salas Y, Márquez A, Diaz D, Romero L. Epidemiological Study of Mammary Tumors in Female Dogs Diagnosed during the Period 2002-2012: A Growing Animal Health Problem. PLoS One. 2015 May 18;10(5):e0127381.

(2) Philibert JC, Snyder PW, Glickman N, Glickman LT, Knapp DW, Waters DJ. Influence of host factors on survival in dogs with malignant mammary gland tumors. J Vet Intern Med. 2003 Jan-Feb;17(1):102-6.

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Mark dos Anjos DVM