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Pancreatic Exocrine Neoplasia in Dogs

By: Dr. Nicholas Trout

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Exocrine tumors of the pancreas are tumors that arise from the glandular tissue of the pancreas that produces digestive secretions. Most of these tumors are malignant (adenocarcinomas). Benign exocrine pancreatic tumors are extremely rare.

There is no known underlying cause. They occur more commonly in older animals. Airdales and boxers may be at a higher risk for this tumor. They are slightly more common in cats than dogs.

Exocrine tumors of the pancreas are aggressive tumors that invade nearby tissues and spread to distant organs. The clinical signs of exocrine pancreatic cancer cannot be differentiated from the clinical signs of benign pancreatic disease. The outlook for this disease is extremely poor with most dogs and cats surviving for less than three months following diagnosis.

What to Watch For

An acute or chronic history of:

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Anorexia
  • Weight loss and lethargy


  • Your veterinarian will palpate your pet's abdomen, feeling for pain, distension or even the presence of a lump or mass. Some animals may show signs of jaundice because a pancreatic tumor can obstruct the flow of bile from the liver to the small intestine resulting in elevated levels of bile products in the blood causing the skin and mucous membranes to appear yellow.

  • X-rays may help to confirm the presence of a pancreatic disease and sometimes can help to define the presence of a mass on the pancreas. Ultrasonography is usually far more specific to detect types of pancreatic disease but this test needs to be performed by an experienced ultrasonographer.

  • Laboratory findings may be consistent with bile outflow obstruction, dehydration and the body's normal response of inflammation without being specific for a pancreatic exocrine tumor.


  • Medical management of animals with exocrine pancreatic neoplasia is generally unrewarding as these tumors are not particularly responsive to chemotherapeutic agents.

  • Surgery is the treatment of choice, although the tumor has usually advanced by the time of diagnosis making resection difficult. Sometimes, the tumor has spread to organs such as the local lymph nodes, spleen and liver at the time of surgery.

  • The majority of dogs and cats that have exocrine pancreatic neoplasia confirmed at the time of surgery are put to sleep while under general anesthesia due to the poor prognosis for this disease.

    Home Care and Prevention

    On rare occasions when there is no obvious evidence of spread to other organs, an exocrine pancreatic tumor can be removed, and your pet may recover from the surgery.

    Hospitalization in an intensive care unit is usually required for several days following the procedure. Intravenous fluids are supported by food given intravenously or via a feeding tube to the small intestine, placed at the time of surgery.

    Feeding tubes must stay in place for at least 5 to 7 days following surgery so feeding and tube management may continue for some time once your pet comes home. Offering food and water by mouth may be delayed for several days following surgery. Postoperative antibiotic treatment is not routine for animals with pancreatic tumors.

    There is no known underlying cause for pancreatic exocrine neoplasia and therefore no way to preempt the disease. Taking a middle aged or older pet with a history of vomiting, weight loss and perhaps abdominal pain, to your veterinarian at the earliest opportunity is best action you can take. Having said this, exocrine pancreatic tumors are a bad disease, and the prognosis is generally extremely poor.

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