Liver cancer in dogs is a tough disease and one that is not easily treated. The main reason treatment is so difficult is that the disease is usually not diagnosed in the early stages. That means the veterinarian is dealing with an advanced form of cancer and the degree of difficulty goes up. It is not necessarily a death sentence for the dog, but the options go down when the cancer is more advanced.
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Some of the signs in the early stages of the disease are vomiting, appetite loss, weight loss, lethargy, blood in stools, excessive thirst, anaemia and jaundice. If there are several of these symptoms, it is prudent to talk to your veterinarian. If it's not liver cancer, there could be some other problem the veterinarian can deal with. Your veterinarian may do some of these tests to diagnose the disease: complete blood count, biochemical profile, abdominal and chest X-rays, abdominal ultrasound, urinalysis and a biopsy.
There are three main types of liver cancer: primary liver tumour, which happens in about 2 per cent of cases; hemolymphatic cancer, which is when the cancer spreads from the lympatic tissues or blood cells; and metastatic, which is when the cancer has spread from other organs in the body.
If the dog has a primary liver tumour, it is possible the veterinarian could perform surgery and remove part of the liver. If only one of the lobes is affected, then surgery is a possibility and the prognosis is very good. If if is the hemolymphatic or metastatic variety, the prognosis is poor. More than likely, the disease was not discovered in the early stages, and if the cancer is metastatic, it is likely to have spread to other organs as well. Operating is not an option, although chemotherapy or radiotherapy could be tried.
These types of a cancer tend to affect older dogs (10 years or older) more often than younger dogs. Because of the dog's age, surgery becomes less of an option because it will have a more difficult time with anaesthesia. The older the dog is, the poorer the prognosis.
Quality of Life
Depending on the stage of cancer, age of the dog and the dog's general health, the prognosis can vary. If caught in the early stages, it is quite possible that the outcome will be good for the animal. But if the cancer is in the advanced stages, most of the time there is not much that can be done to cure the cancer. The goal of treatment in that case is to try to improve the dog's quality of life. This is done by monitoring pain medication and trying to keep the dog as comfortable as possible. As the disease progresses, your vet may bring up the possibility of euthanasia.
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