Hemangiosarcoma grows rapidly and is a type of cancer that primarily forms in the blood vessels of dogs, but can also develop in humans and other animals, such as horses or cats.
Sadly, fewer types of canine cancers are as deadly and dogs with hemangiosarcoma rarely show clinical signs until the tumour has advanced, becoming very large and metastasized. Although a dog's age doesn't impact on the cancer's progression, more than half of the dogs diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma are over 10 years old.
Jaime Modiano, Professor of Oncology and Comparative Medicine with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and Masonic Cancer Center shares what dogs and their owners recently diagnosed need to know.
Symptoms of Hemangiosarcoma
Dr Modiano explains what some of the most common symptoms of this type of cancer are.
“Few canine cancers are deadlier than hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of blood vessel-forming cells. This cancer is unpredictable, develops painlessly and is often advanced by the time it is discovered.
“Severe internal bleeding and sudden death occur frequently and unexpectedly with this disease. A dog’s breed, age, gender, diet and environment do not impact the progression of this cancer.”
The tumour most often appears on the spleen, right heart base, or liver, although varieties also appear on or under the skin or in other locations
How Long Can a Dog Live With Hemangiosarcoma?
Dr Modiano shares what the survival rate of dogs diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma is.
“Hemangiosarcoma is most common in older dogs; more than half of the dogs that develop hemangiosarcoma are over 10 years old.
“Without treatment, the probability of survival can range from days to a few weeks. With treatment, the expected survival is four to six months, though this depends on the tumor’s location. Despite the aggressive nature of the disease, about five to 15 percent of dogs with hemangiosarcoma may survive a year or longer.”
Treating Dogs With Hemangiosarcoma
After diagnosis, Dr Modiano explains that dogs will need surgery to remove the accessible tumours - this depends on their location - followed by chemotherapy.
“Treatment is meant to prevent fatal blood loss and to extend life, but is seldom curative. Chemotherapy delays the recurrence of metastasis, which occurs in virtually every dog diagnosed with this cancer. The combination of surgery and chemotherapy is the only approach that has repeatedly shown to be effective.
"I strongly recommend owners pursue treatment options based on objective data and not on anecdotal information that creates false hope and unrealistic expectations by the pet owners and their veterinarians."
Preventing Hemangiosarcoma in the Future
Dr. Modiano explains that 'The Shine On Project' at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine is following over 200 healthy dogs at risk for developing hemangiosarcoma, trialling a new drug as a preventative tool.
“The goal is to evaluate the use of a novel blood test to assign a level of risk to each of these dogs. Dogs that are at a high risk are eligible to receive eBAT — a promising drug developed at the University of Minnesota — as a preventative tool. eBAT is unique because it can kill the emerging cancer cells and irreparably damage the environment they need before they have a chance to form a tumor. An added advantage to eBAT is that it is exceptionally safe.
“Our approach of detecting hemangiosarcoma early on through The Shine On Project and then combating it with eBAT is something our team now looks to apply to other types of cancer — most notably, osteosarcoma. Rather than curing dogs that already have cancer, we set ourselves apart by detecting it early and fighting it with specific, customized treatments, as we have done with the Shine On Project and our use of eBAT.
“There are many similarities between human and dog cancers — they arise spontaneously in both species, and, in some form, cancer will affect between 25 to 35 percent of both populations. Cancer is the major cause of disease-related mortality in dogs, as it is in humans in an increasing number of countries. Dogs can help us understand the lifelong impact of new strategies to diagnose, prevent and treat cancer because their lives are measured in the span of about a decade.
"As we develop tests for early detection that can be paired with new drugs for active, targeted prevention, success in dogs would provide an impetus for, and confidence in, further developing these approaches to assign cancer risk, and to use preventative strategies in humans.”