Our blood vessels and spleen are lined with special kinds of cells called endothelium cells. Hemangiocarcoma is a cancer which begins in these special cells. Because Hemangiocarcoma is a cancer that grows out of the blood system it is one of the most malignant forms of cancer and can eventually be found in any body cells or organs that are served by blood vessels. Most common in middle aged and older dogs Hemangiocarcoma also seems to attack mostly medium and larger dogs (although any animal can be affected). The most susceptible breed appears to be the German Shepherd but the reasons for this are unknown.
Hemangiocarcoma is a particularly deadly form of cancer as tumours start in the internal organs giving little warning of impending illness. In fact, most animals live merely 6 to 8 weeks after diagnosis in a best case scenario.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Some of the most noticeable symptoms of Hemangiocarcoma include nosebleeds and symptoms similar to those that occur with blood loss: fatigue, weakness, increased respiration, and abdominal swelling. Unfortunately, sudden death is also not an uncommon symptom of Hemangiocarcoma. This cancer attacks internal organs aggressively and can be deadly before any symptoms arise. It is not impossible for tumours in the spleen to reach as much as 10 pounds as well meaning that tumours associated with Hemangiocarcoma are large and aggressive.
Blood disorders such as anemia and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) are also associated with Hemangiocarcoma. With DIC, clotting begins inside blood vessels for no apparent reason. This uses up an animals source of platelets, increases the time it takes to achieve clotting, decreases fibrin levels in the blood and increases the rate with which fibrin breaks down. The effects of DIC are the most likely cause of death in animals with Hemangiocarcomas.
Diagnosing Hemangiocarcoma involves a series of tests. First your veterinarian will notice abdominal swelling or some of the other initial symptoms. Also, blood tests can identify Hemangiocarcoma. If your pet`s blood does not clot properly this is a sign of Hemangiocarcoma. CAT scans and MRIs are also sometimes used to identify a tumour.
Treatment for the Hemangiocarcoma is usually reserved. Death from this type of cancer is almost certain and unless the cancer is discovered very early veterinarians will focus their efforts on making your pet’s last weeks more comfortable. Many veterinarians will suggest euthanasia in order to prevent any suffering on your pet’s part.
Nonetheless, it is also possible to treat some of the secondary effects of the Hemangiocarcoma. First of all, treating the bleeding disorders and any pain associated with Hemangiocarcoma is important. Clotting agents, blood transfusions, and blood substitutions are sometimes conducted especially if an incorrect diagnosis (of anaemia for example) is made.
Regardless of the treatment process you choose to undertake it is important to remember that your pet is probably not going to recover from Hemangiocarcoma. Time should be taken to prepare for the death of your pet.