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Types & Symptoms of Liver Cancer in Dogs

Types & Symptoms of Liver Cancer in Dogs

Our vets understand that a diagnosis of liver cancer for your dog is terrifying. However it may not be all bad news depending on the type of liver cancer your dogs has.

Are all tumors found in a dog's liver cancerous?

Your dog's liver is responsible for removing toxins from the body, aiding in digestion and helping with clotting blood. 

Often, tumors found in a dog's liver are benign, and cancerous tumors that are diagnosed tend to result from metastatic cancers that have spread to the liver from other areas in your dog's body.

If your pup has been diagnosed with liver cancer it could mean either that your dog has actual primary liver cancer which is rare, or your dog has another type of metastatic cancer that has spread to the liver.

What is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)?

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of primary liver cancer in dogs, but there are a few others, including bile duct carcinoma, neuroendocrine tumor, and mesenchymal sarcoma.

Hepatocellular carcinoma in dogs can present in three ways:

  • Diffuse - Cancer seen throughout the entire liver.
  • Nodular -  Several masses spread throughout the liver
  • Massive - A single large turmor found in the liver

It is important to keep in mind that if your dog is diagnosed with a massive hepatocellular carcinoma, this term is not a description of the size of your dog's tumor, it is simply the term for a single large tumor.

Massive tumors are the most common form of hepatocellular carcinoma in dogs and have a somewhat lower rate of metastasis than either nodular or diffuse tumors and tend to be easier to remove. That said, if left untreated all forms of primary liver cancer will metastasize to other parts of the dog's body.

What is metastatic cancer of the liver?

Metastatic cancer of the liver means that the cancer found in your dog's liver has spread from somewhere else in your dog's body. Some of the most common cancers which can lead to metastatic liver cancer in dogs include: lymphoma, pancreatic cancer, intestinal carcinoma, thyroid cancer, osteosarcoma, mast cell tumors, transitional cell sarcoma, mammary carcinoma, and hemangiosarcoma.

Which dogs are most susceptible to liver cancer?

Older dogs are most often diagnosed with liver cancer, but this disease can also be seen in younger dogs. While hepatocellular carcinoma has not been linked to any specific breeds, dogs predisposed to other types of cancer that can metastasize to the liver include Golden Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Poodles and Rottweilers.

Symptoms of Liver Cancer in Dogs

Early signs of liver cancer can be very difficult to detect in dogs since dogs are often asymptomatic in the early stages of the disease. Sadly this means that by the time symptoms become evident the disease is fairly progressed. Some of the most common symptoms of liver cancer in dogs include:

  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (Yellowing of eyes, skin and gums)
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

In some cases vets are able to spot the signs of liver abnormalities such as unusual bloodwork results, liver enlargement or abdominal pain on palpation, during routine wellness exams before symptoms have appeared.

Diagnosing Liver Cancer in Dogs

To diagnose liver cancer, your vet may run lab tests to look for signs of liver dysfunction such as urinalysis, diagnostic imaging tests including radiographs or ultrasounds, or a biopsy or a needle aspiration of the liver to look for cancerous cells.

Following a diagnosis of liver cancer your vet will work with you to come up with the best treatment plan for your dog’s condition.

How long do dogs with liver cancer live?

Although receiving a diagnosis of primary liver cancer such as hepatocellular carcinoma for your dog may sound like a terrible diagnosis, the liver has the remarkable capability of regenerating. This means that even if a large portion of the liver is removed it can rebuild itself. It's also good to note that massive hepatocellular carcinoma tumors grow slowly, giving your dog's vet the time and opportunity to remove the affected parts of your dog’s liver and increase the chances that your dog will make a full recovery!

Surgery to remove a massive hepatocellular carcinoma tumors is generally the most effective treatment for liver cancer in dogs. Dogs that have been diagnosed with tumors which are then surgically removed, have a good prognosis, and often enjoy a good quality of life for years following treatment.

On the other hand, some malignant tumors such as nodular or diffuse hepatocellular carcinoma tumors and tumors from a metastasized cancer cannot be removed and the prognosis is poor (usually around 3-6 months). In some cases chemotherapy can be successful in delaying the progression of cancer, but is unlikely to be curative. If this is the case for your dog, your vet will work with you to decide how best to keep your pup comfortable.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

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