Learn How One Local Dog is Fighting This Disease

Raisin, pictured above was diagnosed 18 months ago with anal sac mass adenocarcinoma, has undergone numerous treatments in order to keep her disease under control.

By Jillanne Kirby

Here in Northern Virginia, our dogs are valued members of the family who are pampered with doggie daycares, dog spas, and an abundance of glorious dog parks.  Part of caring for our pets is staying educated on diseases, vaccines, and screenings that may save their lives. Canine cancer is a disease that affects 1 in 3 dogs.  Of those diagnosed, 50% will die from the disease.  These are startling statistics for any dog owner, but before you make a panicked call to your vet, read on to learn the facts.

As with cancer in humans, the warning signs and treatment options are different depending on the type of cancer, age of the dog, and stage of the cancer. However, canine cancer is more prevalent in dogs over the age of 10 and in some breeds such as Boxers, flat-coated retrievers, Bernese Mountain dogs, and Golden Retrievers, where as much as 75% of the breed will be diagnosed with cancer.  Catching cancer early is key which makes knowing the warning signs all the more important. Some of the warning signs include sores that do not heal, weight loss, loss of appetite, bleeding or discharge from any body opening, offensive odor, difficulty eating or swallowing, hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina, persistent lameness or stiffness, difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecation.  In cases of Hemangioscaroma, a vascular cancer, there are little to no signs.  As dog owners, we know our dog’s habits and personalities, so if your dog seems to be off, it’s not a bad idea to take them in to the vet for a screening. With medical advances, there is even a comprehensive health panel from Veterinary Diagnostics Institute (VDI) called IncaSe that can be used as a routine screening for general health to detect occult disease.  If you suspect cancer, but do not want to do a biopsy, which can be pricy and invasive, there is now a canine cancer panel from VDI that can be used to confirm if cancer is present.

A Local Dog’s Fight Against Cancer
In the case of one local dog, Raisin, the swift action of her owners saved her life.  Danielle, Raisin’s mom, noticed she was drinking a lot of water, more than usual. Raisin had issues with yeast infections in the past due to her physiological make up. Assuming it was another yeast infection and they took Raisin in to her vet thinking she would just get some antibiotics and everything would be fine. When the vet went to take her temperature during the visit, she noticed a small lump next to Raisin’s rectum. It was quickly diagnosed as an anal sac mass adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer common in female dogs Raisin’s age.

Treatment was started immediately. Raisin went in for outpatient surgery within a few weeks of diagnosis to remove the mass.  Luckily in Raisin’s case, the vet was able to remove the entire tumor without evidential spread, but Raisin still had to do chemotherapy treatments to ensure the best case of success.  It is important to understand that chemotherapy treatment in dogs is different than human treatment.

Treating Canine Cancer
In dogs, the chemotherapy is in smaller dosages and not intended to cure the dog, only to prolong life, which makes it easier for the dogs to tolerate without noticeable side effects. The only apparent effects the chemotherapy had on Raisin were tiredness after the injections, but when the oral doses were administered, she was completely normal. Fortunately for her owners, FETCH-a-Cure, a Richmond-based pet cancer awareness organization provided financial assistance to help cover the cost of Raisin’s medical care.

Raisin did not exhibit any negative symptoms of cancer and seemed to feel just fine except for being a little rickety with age – she turned 12 this summer. Unfortunately, the oncologist found that the chemotherapy did not make a meaningful change in slowing the spread of her cancer.  Although a tumor has not grown back in the area where it was originally found, after six months of various rounds of injectable and oral chemotherapy, a fast growing cancer mass was found in one of Raisin’s lymph nodes. At this point, one shorter round of chemotherapy was attempted to address the lymph node mass, but it proved unsuccessful.

Over the course of 18 months, Raisin’s treatments included: Mitoxantrone, one shot every three weeks for a total of 15 weeks, Carboplatin, one shot every three weeks for a total of 15 weeks, Melphalan an oral chemotherapy, given daily. The Melphelan itself was not effective, but a therapeutic dose of Piroxicam, an anti-inflammatory drug,  not only slowed the cancer down, it alleviated pain related to arthritis. Raisin acted like she was years younger as a result.  Several months after the lymph node mass was found, the oncologist discovered that the mass had not grown a significant amount, and therefore, prognosis for a longer span of life without symptoms seemed promising.

This past September marked 18-months since Raisin was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She has not had cancer-specific treatment since November 2014. When she was first diagnosed, her prognosis ranged from 6 months at times to 18 months free of symptoms (time frames are only rough estimates). In June, Raisin’s owners discontinued use of Piroxicam, as a build-up of the drug in Raisin’s system began to cause gastrointestinal issues. This was a hard choice to make, as it may have been the reason for the slowing growth of the lymph nose mass, and it also eased her discomfort related to arthritis. Although she has been experiencing some gastrointestinal issues, which may indicate that the end for her is near, she still romps and plays, loves walks, eats like a pack horse, cuddles, and seems to be enjoying her life as it is.

Learning More
For more information on Canine Cancer visit National Cancer’s website at wearethecure.org. The National Canine Cancer Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health issue and increasing survival rates in dogs through education, outreach and research.  Based in Phoenix, AZ the NCCF has volunteer chapters across the country including here locally in Washington DC.  Other organizations with information include the Morris Animal Foundation, the AKC Canine Health Foundation, and locally, FETCH A Cure based out of Richmond, Virginia. ND

Jill Kirby is a local volunteer for the DC Chapter of the National Canine Cancer Foundation. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband and adorable German Shorthaired puppy, Jack.