Tumors of the Spleen
As canine patients continue to age owners should be aware of potential life threatening tumors that can be found associated with the spleen. This common tumor is called a hemangiosarcoma; a malignant blood vessel tumor that is often found associated with the spleen as well as the heart and in some cases the liver. In many cases a patient may not show any symptoms indicating to their owner or veterinarian that they have any tumor at all.
Hemangiosarcomas are classified as vascular tumors of the viscera, meaning tumors that arise from the blood vessels and find homes associated with internal organs. Not all tumors of the intestinal tract are malignant. Hematomas can also be appreciated and these are benign tumors. Both types of tumors are difficult to detect without advanced diagnostic imaging like x-rays or ultrasounds. Sometimes your veterinarian may be able to detect subtle abnormalities when they feel your pet’s abdomen during their annual physical examination. Unfortunately, in many cases these masses are discovered when a pet is suddenly acting “off”. Typically owners appreciate that the dog does not want to go for a walk or play with their favorite toy. After closer questioning folks may appreciate that the pet had fallen or tripped in the past week and it took them a little time to get to their feet. That trip is often the event that resulted in the mass rupturing and a severe and sudden loss of blood occurred. The reason the dog often falls to the ground is they become dizzy from the sudden drop in their blood pressure.
These types of tumors are moderately common in the spleens of older dogs. Some of the more common breeds we see these in would include German Shepherd Dogs, Golden Retrievers, and Border Collies. Hemangiosarcomas can be seen in cats but are not very common.
In order to diagnose the cause of the bleeding and the type of tumor the mass, often most of the spleen, must be sent for biopsy. In order to do your pet must undergo surgery to have the complete spleen removed and sent to the lab for evaluation. Simply examining a mass or saying that a patient has a tumor of the spleen or liver should not be passed down as a diagnosis of cancer.
Surgery is one of the main treatments for any abdominal masses/tumors. Further treatment is then determined following the type of tumor it is once the laboratory has a chance to evaluate the mass. At that time a prognosis can be determined of which some can be as long as 2 years and others can be as short as three weeks. In some cases a patient may have a very poor prognosis and have a life expectancy of three weeks and live two years.
It is very important to closely monitor your senior dogs for even the slighted changes, often increased breathing rate and them seeming winded. If you have any concerns the sooner you have your pet evaluated the better. The most sensitive test to have done would be an ultrasound even a brief ultrasound. Such an ultrasound is a quick evaluation of the abdomen for any obvious masses or tumors or the potential for free fluid, like blood. If you have an older dog particularly a breed of dog that is over represented yearly brief ultrasounds may be very helpful in early detection of disease. This way you and your family veterinarian can formulate a plan to address the development of masses before they are life threatening.