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Metastatic Neoplasia (Cancer) in Dogs

By: Dr. Erika DePapp

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Metastatic neoplasia is cancer that has spread from its original site to other sites in the body. The lungs and local lymph nodes are common sites of metastasis for many tumor types, but metastases can occur in almost any organ and are associated with malignant tumors.

Metastasis occurs by spread of cancer cells either through the bloodstream, or via the lymphatic system (an important part of the immune system). The impact on your pet will depend on where the primary tumor is located, and where the metastases are located.

What to Watch For

  • Weakness
  • Coughing
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in water consumption
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Lameness
  • Lumps on or under the skin
  • Abnormal behavior

    Diagnosis

    The diagnosis of metastatic disease depends on finding a primary tumor as well as evidence of spread of the tumor to other sites within the body. The work-up will vary with the tumor type. Tests which may commonly be performed include:

  • History and physical exam
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Biochemical profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Fine needle aspirate of masses or enlarged lymph nodes
  • Biopsy
  • Radiographs (x-rays). Radiographs of the chest will sometimes show evidence of metastatic disease, even before the primary tumor has been discovered.

    Treatment

    Chemotherapy and/or surgery are often helpful in slowing down progression of cancer. Unfortunately, when there is already evidence of metastatic disease at the time of diagnosis, the prognosis is grave and response to chemotherapy may be poor.

    Supportive care may consist of supplemental nutrition, fluid therapy, treatment of secondary infections, and pain medication.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Give all medications as directed by your veterinarian. Monitor your pet for increasing lethargy, weight loss, respiratory difficulties, anorexia and worsening of the original clinical signs of illness.

    Early recognition and treatment of cancer may reduce the risk of developing metastatic disease. Signs of illness that don't resolve within a few days, weight loss, and new lumps on your pet should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian as early as possible.

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