Insightful, realistic advice on dealing with discovery of malignant mammary tumors in your dog, the cancer surgery, actual surgical photos, and…
CANINE MAMMARY GLAND TUMORS
I have a wonderfully strong and healthy 6-year-old bitch named Georgie (after my friend George Foreman who was her breeder). During grooming and a search for ticks, I noticed these lumps that felt attached to the inner layer of skin rather than to muscle. They felt movable in relation to deeper tissue but obviously were not superficial (outermost surface), so I was certain as to their nature. That is, tumors with the risk of classification as breast cancer. As I pondered her problem, I was reminded of a Kipling poem about “giving your heart to a dog to tear” in which he hits the bulls-eye on man’s deep attachment to our canine partner-companions. How right he was.
The caninecancer.com site tells us that the incidence rate is one in four in intact (not spayed) bitches after four years of age. Over all, about half of breast tumors are benign (not malignant) at the time of discovery. The bad news is that those are almost always just the smallest tumors, well under an inch diameter, and more may be discovered later. Tumors with diameters larger than 1.5 inches have a worse prognosis than smaller tumors.
In the pathologist report following Georgie’s surgery, two tumor types were found, which is not uncommon with multinodular lesions as opposed to a single tumor mass. According to the pathologist, one of the tumor clusters was considered benign and the other, likely to behave as benign. To me, that sounded like “I hope so” rather than confidence. The surgeon told me he had hoped the diagnosis would be only cystic degeneration but this result is the next best thing. That leaves me less comfortable than I would prefer.
As Georgie was maturing and experiencing her first couple of estrus seasons, I was still thinking I might breed her, or lease her to a friend for a litter, but after having whelped hundreds of puppies (we had gone through the alphabet two and a half times in naming litters, averaging about 9 pups per litter), my wife finally twisted my arm enough to not have any more babies born at home. It was too late for prevention by the time I decided to not breed her. The aforementioned website states: “If a surgery is in the early stages of this disease, the cancer can be totally eliminated in over 50% of the cases having a malignant form of cancer.” That is, if the lesions are small and localized. I thought about her age… six years.
If you suspect mammary tumors, do not delay. Find a vet you can feel good about. Ask her or him to address all your questions and describe and explain what he sees. About half of patients have multiple tumors, so tell him how many you felt and where. In my experience as someone long active in “all things canine”, and having read veterinary reports on the subject, I hold that there is almost no hope of getting rid of breast cancer with radiation, anti-estrogen, or chemotherapy—these often work in humans but almost never does a canine any good.
These are photos (left) taken during her surgery. Knowing the odds of the above cancer treatments rarely work, don’t waste time debating. If you have found the right veterinarian, he or she will also want to move quickly and definitively – and that means immediately excising the tumors to stop the cancer from spreading.
If there is a second occurrence after removal of lumps, chances are that you will be throwing money down a bottomless hole, and getting only a few days more in return. But don’t give up without first discussing it with a vet you trust.
Some veterinarians tend to keep trying to prolong life without any apparent thought toward what it does to a person’s bank account or ability to ever again afford to get a replacement dog after paying the bill. Don’t immediately jump into agreeing to an enormous number of tests and procedures. Rather, study this subject before going to the vet. Extra procedures (and costs) you should be prepared to vote down if you wish, include blood profiles, urinalysis, radiography, biopsy of lymph nodes, spaying, consultation with other vets, repeated follow-up visits and treatments.
Examine the lesions yourself and consult on that with the vet—if the mass is freely movable, that may imply it is still benign, but if more “fixed” to skin, body wall, or deep tissue, it likely implies malignant behavior—cancer. Be prepared for the possibility of bad news. Median survival after mastectomy of tissue with tubular adenocarcinoma is 24.6 months, with a solid carcinoma, it’s 6.5 months. Decide what your probable decision will be before you get to the clinic.
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Fred Lanting is an all-breed judge with experience in over 30 countries. He is a well-known Shiba breeder and GSD authority. He handled Akitas in the 1960s and `70s, and was named an official JKC judge, a rare honor. He has lectured around the world on breeding, judging, canine movement, and CHD (canine hip dysplasis). Be sure to peruse these Dog Books by Fred Lanting