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Hemangiosarcoma: Cancerous Tumour on the Spleen or Benign Tumour?

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I have experience with a dog that had cancer of the spleen. I like sharing this experience with others.

The first warning sign we noticed in our Labrador was his appetite for grass, which he would later vomit.

The first warning sign we noticed in our Labrador was his appetite for grass, which he would later vomit.

Hemangiosarcoma is a fairly common form of cancer in dogs, particularly in larger breeds, like German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labradors. Hemangiosarcoma is a cancerous tumour that grows on the spleen. Some forms of this tumour also grow on the skin and under the skin.

Our black labrador cross first drew our attention that he could have problems when he kept eating grass at every opportunity in an effort to make himself vomit. He would try vomiting but generally only brought up the grass he had devoured.

Being notorious for eating anything and everything, we assumed he had swallowed something that was unable to pass through his digestive system and needed to come back via the mouth. As a young dog, he had once swallowed a large "grandfather" marble. The vet couldn't feel anything, so we assumed he hadn't swallowed it until two months later when he vomited up the missing marble along with copious amounts of grass.

This time the vet decided to X-ray our dog's abdomen to check for any foreign objects. To our dismay, a large tumour was found on his spleen. Typically, these tumours are cancerous and eventually bleed as they grow in blood vessels. Hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive cancer which spreads quickly to other areas such as lungs, liver and brain. If left untreated, the tumour will rupture and internal bleeding will occur.

Our vet explained to us the situation our dog had found himself in and the likely outcomes depending on what the final biopsy showed. Unfortunately, with this type of cancer, it is only possible to realize the malignancy of the tumour once it has been removed. Attempting to biopsy before surgery will often cause excessive bleeding which can in turn mean the demise of the animal.

Our dog was typically overweight, as Labradors are fond of food. A number of things started to niggle at us. If this cancer often resulted in bleed outs or internal bleeding, and our dog had an extremely large growth, why hadn't we seen any sign of this?

Internal bleeding can cause your dog to suddenly collapse and appear very unwell. The cancer moves on quickly showing more illness. The additional X-rays taken to determine whether the cancer had progressed to the lungs or liver proved negative. This seemed a positive outcome considering the size of the tumour and the likelihood of metastisizing. We considered the possibilities over the next few days as we tried to make a decision on whether to operate or not.

The information we received indicated that if we operated, the likely survival rate would be only two months or so. If we chose not to operate, then a probable bleed out would lead to imminent death. A difficult decision to make when you have no idea what your dog actually has.

Many owners decide to have their dog euthanized to alleviate more ill-health. Deciding to have the tumour removed only to find their dog passes away less than two months later leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, the expense of surgery followed by death soon after makes owners decide on euthanasia. They feel this is likely to be kinder to their loved dog in the long run.

We contemplated all the likely outcomes with all the information we could glean from the internet. After going back and forth, we decided the odds were in our dog's favour, considering he had never shown signs of internal bleeding, and since the tumour was large, this should have been happening. We assumed our chances were OK.

The other factor we took into account was the fact that our dog never appeared to be unwell apart from eating excessive amounts of grass. He was still excitable and had his usual insatiable appetite. We had noticed he found it hard to get himself in a comfortable position when travelling in the car. The thing that persuaded me it was time to get him checked out was a slight bulge at the bottom of his ribs on one side.

After consulting with the teaching veterinary hospital at our local university, we were able to obtain a surgical fee of almost half the price of the original quoted, so we decided to go ahead with the surgery to remove the tumour.

Much to our delight, the results of the post-surgery biopsy showed the tumour to be completely benign. Had the tumour been malignant we would then have to decide whether to put him through chemotherapy which increases the survival time considerably and of course costs more money. From our research, we had read of many cases where dogs who did have malignant tumours have still been alive two years later, which is quite good considering the prognosis given to us at the time. There is always hope. Some people choose to change their dog's diet to a more natural one after surgery in an effort to increase their life expectancy. Humans often take this approach themselves when faced with ill health and I feel it is a valid option.

The spleen had to be removed; however, our vet told us he could live quite happily without one. The tumour was the size of a soccer ball and weighed two and a half kilograms. No wonder the poor fellow couldn't get comfortable in the car. He was obviously trying to accommodate a large growth. He looked quite trim after surgery, especially with his stretchy net bandage tube on to protect the wound.

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It has been almost one year since surgery. Although I think he has probably regained the two and a half kilos, we are so happy to still have him with us, as he is our friend.

By the way, he is 10-years-old now.

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.


aj on January 24, 2017:

Im glad to hear your dog is doing good, we had to take my boxador in today because she was being tired and throwing up and hadnt been able to eat for two days, we found out she that her spleen was four times the size it should of been and was bleeding and also had a massive tumor connected to it , also they found a mass blocking the bladder and her bladder completely full, they could not empty the bladder because with out removing the mass. We decided to put her down , they said there was 98 percent it was cancer and they werebt sure if she could make the three hour drive to get her bladder drain and the surgery, im not sure we made the right decision.

tebo (author) from New Zealand on January 19, 2017:

Hi teaka. How lucky for you and your dog that the vet was too busy to call on you and your dog bounced back. Sounds like she is doing well. Interesting that she has the bleeds and comes right again. Sounds like you are doing all the right things. Thanks for reading.

teaka on January 17, 2017:

We took our 8 year old lab/beagle mix to an emergency vet 9 months ago who diagnosed her with a bleeding spleen tumor and recommended either surgery or euthanization immediately. We did neither and brought her home, to have her euthanized at home. Our vet couldn't make a house call for a few days in which time our dog seemed to get better. I called off the dreaded appointment and 9 months later she is still with us. A happy, running around dog! She has had 2 more of the bleeding incidences. I keep her quiet and give her rimadyl for pain, knowing this may be her last day. But for now she's a very active and happy dog!

tebo (author) from New Zealand on March 17, 2016:

Thanks DDE. I'm glad you liked it and thanks for reading.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 17, 2016:

Thank you for sharing your experience and a helpful hub on this issue. I learned a lot here and an informative hub.

tebo (author) from New Zealand on March 16, 2016:

Thanks Nell Rose. I hoped it might be helpful to people in the same predicament. It was pretty exciting when the results came in and it was completely benign - no further treatment- yahoo!

Nell Rose from England on March 16, 2016:

Wow! what a story! and thank goodness for your common sense, and finding out that it was benign! I am so glad your dog is well, and this will really help others, :)

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