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Osteosarcoma

By: Dr. Jeffrey Philibert

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Osteosarcoma is a type of cancer that typically arises in the bones of the limbs, or the appendicular skeleton. Less commonly, it may occur in the bones of the spine, pelvis, and skull – the axial skeleton. Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer, and it is estimated to occur in more than 8,000 dogs in the United States each year. Osteosarcoma occurs very rarely in cats.

The cause of osteosarcoma is largely unknown. It is most common in large-breed dogs (over 50 pounds), so its development in some animals may be related to rapid early growth with resultant increased weight and forces being placed on the bones. It has occurred at fracture sites where metal plates or pins were used to repair the bone, suggesting that chronic irritation may be associated with development of this type of cancer. Rarely, it can occur in areas that have been exposed to radiation therapy.

Male animals are affected at the same rate as female animals. Most dogs are 6 years of age or older when they develop this tumor; however, it does occur in animals as young as two years of age.

This is a highly metastatic, meaning it spreads to other parts of the body, and life-threatening form of cancer and usually causes lameness and general debilitation of your pet during its development and progression. Average life expectancy in dogs that receive treatment in the form of amputation, or surgical removal of the leg, and chemotherapy is 10 to 12 months. Without treatment, life expectancy is usually two to four months. When this cancer affects the axial skeleton, the prognosis is usually worse but is dependent on the site and on the type of surgery and follow-up care. Some animals with tumors of the lower jaw can do well for a year with only surgery.

What to Watch For

  • Lameness
  • Pain of any of the bones
  • Broken bone with minimal trauma
  • Swelling of a limb
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance or reluctance or inability to exercise normally

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