Our vets understand that a diagnosis of liver cancer for your dog is terrifying. However it may not be all bad news depending on the type of liver cancer your dogs has. At Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Huntersville, our veterinary oncologist uses advanced diagnostics and treatments to provide the best possible care to pets with cancer.
Are all tumors found in a dog's liver cancerous?
The liver is the organ responsible for removing toxins from the body, aiding in digestion and helping the body with blood clotting.
Frequently, tumors found in a dog's liver are benign, and cancerous tumors that are diagnosed tend to result from metastatic cancers located elsewhere in the dog's body but have spread to the liver.
If your cainine companion has been diagnosed with liver cancer it could mean either that your dog has actual liver cancer which is rare, or your dog has another type of metastatic cancer that has spread to the liver.
What is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)?
Actual liver cancer is often the result of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). This is the most common type of primary liver cancer in dogs (cancer that originates from the liver), but there are a few other types of liver cancer that can also be found in dogs, including bile duct carcinoma, neuroendocrine tumor, and mesenchymal sarcoma.
Hepatocellular carcinoma can present in three ways:
- Massive - A single large turmor found in the liver
- Nodular - Several masses spread throughout the liver
- Diffuse - Cancer seen throughout the entire liver.
It is important to keep in mind that if your dog is diagnosed with a massive hepatocellular carcinoma, this term is not a description of the size of your dog's tumor, it is simply the term for a single large tumor.
Massive tumors are the most common form of hepatocellular carcinoma in dogs and have a somewhat lower rate of metastasis than either nodular or diffuse tumors and tend to be easier to remove. That said, all forms of primary liver cancer will metastasize to other parts of the dog's body if left untreated.
What is metastatic cancer of the liver?
Metastatic cancer of the liver means that the cancer found in your dog's liver has spread from somewhere else in your dog's body. Some of the most common cancers which can lead to metastatic liver cancer in dogs include: lymphoma, pancreatic cancer, intestinal carcinoma, thyroid cancer, osteosarcoma, mast cell tumors, transitional cell sarcoma, mammary carcinoma, and hemangiosarcoma.
Which dogs are most susceptible to liver cancer?
Liver cancer is most often diagnosed in older dogs, but can also affect younger dogs. Hepatocellular carcinoma has not been linked to any specific breeds however, breeds that are predisposed to other types of cancer that can metastasize to the liver include Golden Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Poodles and Rottweilers.
Symptoms of Liver Cancer in Dogs
Dogs with liver cancer are often asymptomatic in the early stages of the disease, which means that by the time symptoms become evident the disease is fairly progressed.
Common symptoms of liver cancer in dogs include:
- Weight loss
- Jaundice (Yellowing of eyes, skin and gums)
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination
Veterinarians are sometimes able to spot the signs of liver abnormalities such as unusual bloodwork results, liver enlargement or abdominal pain on palpation, during routine wellness exams.
Diagnosing Liver Cancer in Dogs
To diagnose liver cancer, your vet may run lab tests to look for signs of liver dysfunction such as, a urine sample test, diagnostic imaging tests including radiographs or ultrasounds, or a biopsy or a needle aspiration of the liver to look for cancerous cells.
Following a diagnosis of liver cancer your vet will work with you to come up with the best treatment plan for your dog’s condition.
How long do dogs live with liver cancer?
Receiving a diagnosis of primary liver cancer such as hepatocellular carcinoma for your dog may sound like a terrible diagnosis however, the liver is capable of regenerating. This means that even if a large portion of the liver is removed it can rebuild itself. It's also good to note that massive hepatocellular carcinoma tumors grow slowly, giving your dog's vet the time and opportunity to remove the affected parts of your dog’s liver and increase your dog's chances of a full recovery!
Surgery to remove the tumor is generally the most effective treatment for liver cancer in dogs. Dogs that have been diagnosed with massive liver tumors which are then sugically removed, have a good prognosis, and may live for years following treatment.
Unfortunately however, some malignant tumors such as nodular or diffuse hepatocellular carcinoma tumors and tumors from a metastasized cancer cannot be removed and the prognosis is poor (usually around 3-6 months). Chemotherapy can sometimes delay the progression of cancer, but is unlikely to be curative. In cases of these types of cancer, your vet will work with you to decide how best to keep your dog comfortable.