Dog Hemangiosarcoma: Proven New Treatments That Prolong Life
Visceral Canine Hemangiosarcoma Symptoms and Life Expectancy
Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is a relatively common variety of canine cancer that affects 5% of all dogs in the United States and appears to be on the rise, according to the National Canine Cancer Foundation. Visceral hemangiosarcomas most frequently present on the spleen, heart and pericardium. Other less common sites include the liver, lungs and uterus. Hemangiosarcoma of the skin is not discussed in this review.
This cancer is slow to progress and dogs tolerate the tumors well until the late stages of the disease. HSA tumors are vascularized, which means that they develop their own supply of blood vessels. These blood vessels are inferior and eventually rupture, bathing the abdominal cavity in mutated cells. These ruptures increase the likelihood of spreading (metastasis) and recurrence even after the initial tumor has been removed.
Dogs typically show few to no symptoms of the disease until the tumor ruptures and triggers hemorrhagic shock.
Symptoms of Hemangiosarcoma
The early signs of HSA typically do not present until a week or two prior to rupture and hemorrhagic shock. Symptoms are listed in order of presentation:
- Depression (typically noticed in hindsight)
- Minor abdominal distension
- Pale gums
- Constipation and unusual bowel movements
- Substantial abdominal distension
- Collapse (hemorrhagic/hypotensive shock)
According to PetMD.com, the average life expectancy following surgical intervention and aggressive chemotherapy is 2–3 months; however, many dogs enter into a state of shock and may not be good candidates for surgery. Early detection and surgery alone lead to an extended life expectancy of 4–6 months. Research is underway at several veterinary medical facilities to find a means of early diagnosis and treatment for this fatal cancer.
While researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a promising line of research involving stem cells, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine have investigated a mushroom compound that can significantly extend the lives of dogs suffering from HSA. The positive results of this study suggest a treatment that is relatively inexpensive, produces no side effects and does not require a prescription.
Stages of Hemangiosarcoma Tumors in Dogs
Hemangiosarcoma is an indolent cancer. In the initial stages, the cancer develops very slowly, asymptomatically and painlessly. The most common primary sites of the tumors are the spleen, the right atrium of the heart and the tissue beneath the skin. The tumors themselves are vascular in nature. As they grow, they attempt to develop their own blood supply. However, the blood vessels are of inferior quality and malformed. Over time they begin to leak and clot, causing blood loss into the abdominal cavity, heart sac and subcutaneous tissues.
Dogs with HSA may occasionally appear lethargic, but as the body quickly reabsorbs the lost blood, they may bounce back again. As the tumors grow, they shed cells into the bloodstream; eventually, the tumors themselves rupture. Frequently, by the time of diagnosis, the cancer has already aggressively metastasized to the lungs, liver and intestines.
Primary Tumor Sites
According to CanineCancer.com and ScienceDirect.com:
- The most common HSA sites include the spleen, skin, right atrium and liver.
- 25% of dogs with splenic hemangiosarcoma also have a heart-based HSA (HSAs are the most common cardiac tumors in dogs).
- 1/3 of cases will spread internally in a malignant way.
Current Treatment for Dogs With Hemangiosarcoma
Splenetic and subcutaneous tumors are more readily treatable. The current standard of care is to remove the tumor surgically and then to treat with chemotherapy. As most universities and veterinary practices do not perform open heart surgery on dogs, there is little that can be done for atrial tumors.
The hemangiosarcoma tumors do not respond well to chemotherapy, adding on average just 2–3 months to the dog’s life span while simultaneously reducing the quality of the extended life. Many owners opt not to treat their dogs given the poor prognosis resulting from these expensive treatments.
The Number One Holistic Cancer Fighter
The Coriolus versicolor mushroom, known commonly as the yun zhi mushroom or the turkey tail mushroom, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. Chinese medical practitioners have prized yun zhi for its healing and energizing properties. As interest in holistic approaches to medicine has increased over the last two decades, Western researchers have begun studying this mushroom for its potential as a possible cancer fighter in humans and in canines alike. Much of the research has focused on a compound found within the mushroom called polysaccharopeptide or PSP.
Yun Zhi Mushroom Results in Human Cancer Trials
Dr. Silva Couto and his associates mounted a year-long clinical trial examining the effects of yun zhi mushroom supplementation on patients with human papillomavirus (HPV). The findings were impressive:
Coriolus supplementation demonstrated a 72 percent regression rate in lesions compared to 47.5 percent without supplementation, and a 90 percent regression rate in the high risk HPV virus sub-types compared to 8.5 percent without.
In another study, researchers in Hong Kong tested people with lung cancer at various stages of progression of the disease who were receiving radiation treatment. Doctors found those who also took the yun zhi-based supplement showed slower deterioration or a longer survival rate.
The bottom line: Those who received yun zhi-based supplements survived significantly longer, felt better and had fewer side effects.
Yunzhi Supplements (PSP) and the Treatment of Cancer in Dogs
In the wake of these impressive results, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania mounted a study of the effects of the yun zhi supplement, I’m-Yunity, on HSA in dogs. I’m-Yunity is a formulation of PSP that can easily be purchased online. The study was funded by Chinese Medicine Holding LTD and released in September 2012.
In this study, fifteen dogs that had been diagnosed with naturally occurring HSA participated in the trial. Dividing the subjects into three groups of five, each group received a different dose of I’m-Yunity: 25, 50 or 100 mg/kg/day. Owners were able to treat their animals at home with the supplement and return to the university on a monthly basis for blood samples and ultrasounds to determine the extent that tumors had developed or spread in the dogs’ bodies.
I'm Yunity was the brand used in the University of Pennsylvania trials. UP selected this brand for its quality; however, its cost varies greatly depending on its availability. It is much cheaper than chemotherapy if you opt for the natural course of treatment. Pet owners have reported success with this brand and another which we discuss below.
See directions for dosing based on weight.
Dogs' Lives Extended With No Side Effects
The results astonished the researchers. Per Cimino Brown of the University of Pennsylvania:
We were shocked . . . . [p]rior to this, the longest reported median survival time of dogs with hemangiosarcoma of the spleen that underwent no further treatment was 86 days. We had dogs that lived beyond a year with nothing other than this mushroom as treatment.
Better yet, the dogs undergoing treatment with I’m-Yunity demonstrated no negative side effects. The dogs’ lives were being extended while still maintaining a good quality of life. While dogs receiving the highest dosage at 100 mg/kg/day had the longest median survival time, it was noted that the difference in survival times between dosages was not statistically significant.
While the PSP supplement, I’m-Yunity, has been shown to extend life, it has not been labeled as a cure for hemangiosarcoma. The researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine intend to investigate the effects of PSP on dogs with HSA in two future studies. At the very least, the PSP supplement may be able to extend dogs’ lives long enough for other cures to come to fruition. The stem cell research being conducted at the University of Minnesota has produced some promising results.
Occurrence of Cancer in Dogs
Have you had a dog diagnosed with cancer?
Alternatives to I'm-Yunity
While the researchers used I'm-Yunity as their brand of turkey tail mushroom extract, many other manufacturers exist. If money is a concern, you may want to look at other manufacturers that provide the extract in high-dose capsules at substantially lower costs. The least expensive one we found was made by Swanson Superior Herbs; however, countless others exist. Make sure the supplement you purchase has undergone quality control/assurance testing and is vet-approved.
The Host Defense brand of turkey tail mushroom extract is designed for human use but works for canines as well. Humans and dog owners report successfully extending lives and beating stage 4 cancers; they credit this supplement for their success.
See directions for dosing based on weight.
Clinical Mushroom Studies for Humans With Cancer and Benign Tumors
In Asia, there are over 100 varieties of mushrooms that have been used to treat cancer. Among them, two types of mushrooms have enjoyed multiple controlled studies in Japan and China to test their impact on immune health in patients being treated for various cancers. Both the turkey tail mushroom and reishi mushroom have shown promise in extending patients' lives as well as diminishing the risk of cancer recurrence following treatment.
Note Regarding Quality
It should be noted that the US Food and Drug Administration does not approve dietary supplements for safety or efficacy. Individual companies are responsible for the safety of their products, the accuracy of their claims regarding its benefits and the content of the supplements.
The Turkey Tail Mushroom (PSK) in Additional Human Clinical Trials
Polysaccharide-K (PSK) is another well-known active ingredient in the turkey tail mushroom. Studies in Japan dating back to 1978 have shown promise in treating patients with lung, breast, gastric and colorectal cancers. PSK is an approved treatment for cancer in Japan:
- Gastric Cancer: Several randomized clinical trials totaling over 9,000 patients have shown that patients receiving PSK along with chemotherapy following surgery for gastric cancer lived longer on average than those who received chemotherapy alone. Researchers recommend that PSK be given with chemotherapy to improve patients' long-term outcomes.
- Breast Cancer: The National Institute for Health sponsored a study of turkey tail extract given to women who received radiation therapy. Improvements in their immune systems were show via increased natural killer cells as well as other cancer-fighting cells.
- Colorectal Cancer: Three trials have shown that patients taking PSK have fewer chances of the cancer returning; patients also lived longer than those who did not receive PSK.
- Lung Cancer: Five trails with radiation therapy have shown that adding PSK to the treatment protocol increases survival time. Another six studies of patients receiving chemotherapy showed that those receiving PSK improved in one or more of the following measures: improved body weight, improved well-being, improved immune-system function, reduced tumor-related symptoms and/or longer survival.
- Baillie, K.U. (2012, September 10). Compound Derived From a Mushroom Lengthens Survival Time in Dogs With Cancer, Penn Vet Study Finds. PennToday. Retrieved on October 30, 2018.
- Bethesda, M.D. (2017, October 6). Medicinal Mushrooms PDQ®. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved on October 30, 2018.
- Dorothy, C.B. and Reetz, J. (2012, July 25). Single Agent Polysaccharopeptide Delays Metastases and Improves Survival in Naturally Occurring Hemangiosarcoma. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012 (1-8). Retrieved on October 30, 2018.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Can any of these new treatments be used on cats that have hemangiosarcoma?
We have not had any experience treating cats with any of these treatments. I searched for research where cats were included in the studies, but could not find any evidence of it. Dogs are often used in preliminary studies for cancer treatments as their size and overall physiology is more similar to humans than the usual test subjects, rats.
Having said that, the mushroom manufacturers for turkey tail that is marketed to pets mentions cats in their description of pets who can benefit from their compound. As there are no side effects listed for humans or dogs, it seems likely that cats could take it too without adverse effects. Cats' nervous systems are more similar to ours than dogs' nervous systems are.Helpful 11