Hemangiosarcoma of the Bone in Dogs
Dr. Jeffrey Philibert
Hemangiosarcoma is a type of cancer that arises from blood vessels and can occur almost anywhere in the body. It is a highly metastatic form of cancer, meaning it spreads readily to other tissues. Usually when hemangiosarcoma occurs in bone it is due to metastasis from another site, although rarely, it may actually arise in the bone; the bone is then referred to as the primary site. Lameness or pain, especially in the legs
This tumor affects the bone much more rarely than osteosarcoma, but when it occurs in bone it can sometimes be very difficult to distinguish from the osteosarcoma. The cause of hemangiosarcoma is largely unknown. In people this type of cancer has been linked to exposure to vinyl chloride, a chemical agent.
Hemangiosarcoma occurs most commonly in middle-aged to older, large breed dogs. It can affect the axial skeleton, which includes the bones of the spine, pelvis and skull, as well as the appendicular skeleton, which includes the arms and legs.
This is a lethal form of cancer in your pet. Average survival rate in animals with this type of cancer, even with treatment, is only months. In most cases, the tumor has already spread widely or will spread widely throughout the body, despite therapy and will continue to grow. When it primarily affects the bone, it can cause lameness and general debilitation of your pet during its development and progression.
What to Watch For
Unexplained swelling of any bone
Broken bones without severe trauma
Diagnostic tests are necessary to diagnose the tumor and define the extent of disease. Tests that your veterinarian may wish to perform include:
Complete medical history and physical exam
Radiographs (X-rays) of the affected body part
Radiographs of the chest/lungs
Abdominal (belly) radiographs
Cardiac (heart) ultrasound
Complete blood cell count (CBC)
Biopsy of the tumor
Treatment may include the following:
Surgical removal of the tumor, which usually involves removing the affected bone
Radiation therapy as an alternate form of palliative treatment for pain relief in very select cases
Home Care and Prevention
Your veterinarian will most likely prescribe pain medication to ensure your pet's comfort. These medications may be given prior to definitive diagnosis and/or after surgery. Medication will usually be in the form of pills or narcotic pain patches that are placed on the skin to release a constant level of medication across the skin.
You should limit your dog's activity to minimize pain and to prevent what is called a pathologic fracture, which is an abnormal breaking of the bone due to the cancer weakening the bone. Your pet should not run, jump or play during this time. You should watch your dog carefully and give assistance when he climbs stairs or when he gets in and out of the car.
Have your veterinarian evaluate promptly any unexplained bump or lameness that develops. Lameness is more likely to be associated with arthritis or injury to ligaments and tendons than cancer, but it is worth having your dog evaluated nonetheless.
If your dog does not improve with rest or anti-inflammatory drugs, radiographs of the affected part of the body may be indicated to exclude bone cancer as a cause of the lameness or pain.
Hemangiosarcoma, like other cancers, is not currently preventable.