Hemangiosarcoma is a rapidly growing, highly invasive, malignant variety of cancer, occurring almost exclusively in dogs and rarely in cats. It is a sarcoma arising from the lining of blood vessels. It can be found anywhere in the body, but is most commonly found in the spleen, followed by the liver and heart. It is estimated that about 25% of dogs with hemangiosarcoma of the spleen also have a mass in the heart. This cancer spreads rapidly; even though other organs may appear to have no invasion, it is thought that, once diagnosed, over 75% of cases already have cancer spreading through the body that is not yet visible. Hemangiosarcoma is found more commonly in middle-aged, larger breeds of dogs like Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Boxers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Dobermans, and German Shepherds. Recently I have seen quite a few Huskies and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with this disease.
Sadly, these tumors are often diagnosed after the disease has spread throughout the body. Commonly, laboratory tests will be normal, even in dogs with advanced disease. During the annual veterinary examination, make sure you ask the doctor if he or she feels anything abnormal on abdominal palpation. Survey radiographs to assess size and shape of the spleen and liver are warranted if there is any suspicion that something is not right. An abdominal ultrasound will most likely be necessary to definitively diagnose the presence of a mass.
Many times, the first sign of disease is collapse, due to rupture of the tumor and internal hemorrhage. The gums may appear pale or white, the abdomen may appear bloated, and the respiration may be rapid and shallow. Some dogs may show lethargy, decreased appetite or increased thirst in the early stages of disease, prior to tumor rupture. Surgery to remove the tumor is usually recommended, particularly if it is isolated to the spleen. Because this cancer is aggressive and spreads rapidly, combining surgery with chemotherapy is the standard treatment. Many chemotherapy protocols exist which may include the following drugs: cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin, and cytoxan. The use of radiation has not been proven to be useful in fighting this disease at this time. Fewer than 10% of dogs will survive a year, most surviving less than 6 months.
Holistic veterinarians often take a different approach to this disease, treating dogs with diets of organic, high quality home made food, along with a combination of herbs, antioxidants, and nutritional supplements. There have been reports of dogs surviving 3 or more years, although the majority of cases still have short survival times. Yunnan Bai Yao and I'm Yunity mushroom supplement have both been studied and shown to help improve survival times.
Information concerning the cause of this cancer is inconclusive. Certainly, there does appear to be a genetic influence, but other factors that may play a role in the increasing number of cases include processed, chemically treated diets, overuse of vaccinations, overuse of chemicals to prevent parasites, environmental toxins, and chronic exposure to carcinogens.
Don't skip those veterinary exams, but skip the unnecessary vaccinations. Avoid chemical parasite preventatives and feed a species appropriate high quality diet. If you own a dog that is a high risk breed, consider having annual abdominal ultrasound examinations as a screening test.