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Veterinary Surgery

What to do when your pet’s been diagnosed with a splenic tumour?

My dog has just been diagnosed with a tumour in the spleen…

Bad news yes, but don't panic. The answer many hear, but shouldn't, is a version of “they most likely won't survive treatment so you should consider putting him/her down”. Owners want to hear options and the pro's and con's of each option, both euthanasia and other treatment. Owners want information so they can make choices, not be told what to do!

We had a case recently where between the emergency centre and a specialist centre, the owner had spent over $5,000... just to get a diagnosis! They came to us, quite upset after getting a version of the comment in the paragraph above and we discussed a range of options and scenarios. Knowing the risks, the owners went ahead and elected and blood transfusion and surgery, all for $1,600.

We know from the work the specialist centre did that the tumour had spread, but this was not the reason the dog was dying. The spread is early and removal of the spleen and bleeding mass has given their owners their family pet back again, and no doubt the dog involved is pretty happy about that too.

Ok, tumours of the spleen are bad, but occasionally are even benign. My own Blue Heeler had a major bleed as a 12–year-old. I diagnosed a splenic mass, gave him a blood transfusion, and removed the spleen and bleeding mass. Histopathology of this mass revealed it to be benign and he lived another five years and passed away at 17.

Tumours of the spleen are common in many breeds of dog and we treat many of these every year. Many are haemagiosarcoma's, the worst form and these have almost always spread by the time of diagnosis, even if this is not evident. BUT it is not the tumour spread that is killing the dog at the time of diagnosis, it is the bleeding from the tumour in the spleen. Most of these dogs can live for around six months, just by removing the spleen and without any further follow-up treatment.

Occasionally we discover these prior to a bleeding event or the bleeding event is minor and the dog does require a blood transfusion, so the treatment cost can be as low as $1,000. If the dog requires a blood transfusion prior to surgery, then the treatment cost will usually be around $1,500.

Usually, in as little as a week after surgery, the dog is back to being as active as ever, and this is enough for most owners, knowing they have some more time with their pet, for not a huge financial cost. The next step after getting the dog stable is considering extending the time we have with them, via chemotherapy. We can offer this for as little as $300-$400 every three weeks for five cycles. There are new drugs such as Palladia that have come out, which may also have a role and extend life further, though they can increase the cost quite a bit.

There is never any issue in having these cases treated at a specialist centre and then subsequently at a specialist oncology (cancer) centre. However, expect costs of $10,000 to $15,000 and more for both the initial treatment and ongoing treatment over the following months. We successfully treat many of these every year, at a fraction of the cost of specialist centres. Even if cost is not the issue, but you have been given a version of the “there's nothing we can do and you should consider euthanasia”, then please, give us a call as we can more than likely give you more time with your pet.

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