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Urinary Bladder Cancer in Dogs

By: Dr. Jeffrey Philibert

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Treatment

Treatment of bladder cancer rarely is curative and more often is used with the intention of controlling the disease temporarily, relieving partial urinary tract obstruction, and making the pet more comfortable for a variable period of time. Such an approach will usually improve your pet's quality of life and allow you to spend more time with your pet. Unfortunately, bladder cancer usually is very advanced in dogs by the time it is diagnosed. Often, it already has metastasized to local lymph nodes in the abdomen.

Treatment for bladder cancer may include one or more of the following:

  • Surgery. Small masses confined to the fundus or body of the bladder can be removed surgically. Despite this, the cancer can appear in other areas of the bladder. Also, bladder tumors that affect the region of the bladder into which the ureters empty (called the trigone), the bladder neck, and first portion of the urethra are not accessible for surgery. For these reasons, surgery often is not recommended for many pets with bladder cancer. Surgery, however, can serve as a diagnostic tool to obtain biopsy specimens of bladder masses or, in advanced cases, to place a tube in the bladder that comes out the through the abdominal wall allowing the owner to drain the animal's bladder manually several times a day as needed. This is a cystostomy tube.

  • Cancer chemotherapy. Treatment protocols using anti-cancer drugs can be used to manage pets with bladder cancer. These drugs are often very toxic, resulting in adverse effects such as bone marrow suppression leading to low white cell count, gastrointestinal toxicity with nausea and vomiting, and kidney toxicity. A specialist in veterinary oncology should be consulted about chemotherapy for bladder cancer. Examples of some anti-cancer drugs used in dogs with bladder cancer include cisplatin, carboplatin, and mitoxantrone. Remissions of six months and sometimes longer have been achieved with chemotherapy.

  • Piroxicam (Feldene®) is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that has been used to treat pets with bladder cancer. Its mechanism of action is not well understood but partial remission occurs in 25 percent of treated dogs, stabilization of disease occurs in 50 percent and, unfortunately, progression of disease occurs in 25 percent of treated dogs. The main toxicity of piroxicam is gastrointestinal upset.

  • Radiation therapy can be used to treat some bladder cancers by directing a beam of radiation at the affected area and sites of metastasis. Radiation therapy is a highly specialized form of treatment available only at selected referral centers and teaching institutions. Radiation therapy is associated with adverse effects because overlying skin and surrounding tissues also can be damaged by the radiation. A veterinary oncologist should be consulted about the advisability of radiation therapy for your pet's bladder cancer.

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