The spleen is a flat, oval organ lying just below the stomach. The red pulp of the spleen stores blood, recaptures iron from dead red cells and removes red cell parasite infections. The white pulp acts like a lymph node and is involved with circulating lymphocytes in the immune system. Cancers that arise in the blood vessels of the red pulp are called hemangiosarcomas. Mast cell tumours and lymphosarcomas are cancers that grow in the white pulp.
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Most splenic cancers in dogs are hemangiosarcomas, and most occur in middle-aged or older animals. German shepherds, golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers are at higher risk. Hemangiosarcomas are aggressive tumours that spread (metastasise) quickly, usually to liver and lungs. Symptoms can include abdominal swelling, weight loss, weakness, sudden collapse, loss of appetite, acute bleeding, shock, pale gums, cold body and anaemia.
Mast Cell Tumors
A mast cell encloses granules containing histamine, which causes secretion of stomach acids and produces inflammation during an allergic reaction. Symptoms of mast cell cancer of the spleen include enlargement of the spleen, inflammation and increased secretion of stomach acids. Although mast cell tumours are less common in dogs than in cats, dogs with this type of cancer generally have a poor outcome.
Lymphosarcoma is cancer of the lymphocytes. One of the most common tumours in dogs, lymphosarcoma is usually found in middle-aged or older animals. Golden retrievers appear to be at special risk. Symptoms include enlarged lymph nodes, weakness, pale gums, loss of appetite and loss of energy. Lymphosarcoma is not curable.
A veterinarian can frequently feel a large mass in the area of the spleen. X-rays of the abdomen and chest will confirm whether the enlargement is due to the spleen and whether the cancer has spread to the lungs. A blood panel can detect possible chronic bleeding caused by a tumour. Serum biochemistry tests, ultrasound and other imaging studies may be performed to confirm the presence of tumours or to determine whether the cancer has spread.
Tumours in the spleen eventually rupture. When this occurs, the spleen begins to bleed, and life-threatening blood loss can occur. Therefore, initial treatment always involves removal of the spleen or splenectomy. Euthanasia should be considered if the dog is not a candidate for splenectomy.
Chemotherapy can prolong the life and quality of life of a dog with spleen cancer after splenectomy. Survival depends on the dog's general state of health and how far advanced the cancer is at diagnosis. Dogs treated with splenectomy and chemotherapy usually survive a year or less. Dogs diagnosed with hemangiosarcomas have shorter survival times, whereas dogs with lymphosarcomas tend to have longer survival times.
Dogs will require pain medication for their disease, as well as for discomfort caused by treatment. Dogs with cancer require a special diet.
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