Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

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Dog Tumor Surgery: It Matters

Many dogs afflicted with cancer face a surgery.  In spite of how far we have come in medical science, our most reliable way of getting rid of canine cancer is still a bit old fashioned: cut it out.

Indeed, most of the time surgical removal is the treatment of choice for tumor cure in the dog.

This may be a bit of a surprise to many dog lovers.  One of the reasons for this surprise is that we have a difference between veterinary medicine and human medicine that should be appreciated.

In human medicine, we can sometimes rely on chemotherapy, radiation, or other non-surgical treatments to yield a cure for cancer, or something close to it.

This is is contrast to dogs however.  In veterinary medicine, tools like radiation and chemotherapy, or newer conventional techniques like cancer vaccines, open-cell polylactic acid polymer placement, samarium treatment, stereotactic radiotherapy, brachytherapy…the list goes on…all of these are aimed at palliation.

Palliation is defined as a reduction in the signs and symptoms of a disease. The word comes from the Latin palliare, which means, “to cloak”.

So when we are talking about all of these treatments for cancer, none of them, at least not now, are capable of cancer cure for the aggressive cancers.  And it is the aggressive cancers that are the ones treated with all of these advanced techniques, or vanilla chemo and radiation.

Which puts us in a bit of a bind, since we do see, from time to time, heavy-duty side effects in some dogs.  All for palliation, but no cure.

All except surgery.

If your vet is talking about surgery for your loved canine companion’s tumor surgery, listen up.  It may be the only way for a true cure.  Most of these surgeries, if done by a skilled practitioner, turn out very well.

Our four (or sometimes three) legged friends are up and going again with tails wagging in a short time.

For more details on dog cancer surgery and things to watch out for, check out the dog cancer book at http://dogcancersurvival.com .


Dr D

About the Author: Demian Dressler, DVM

Dr. Demian Dressler, DVM is known as the "dog cancer vet" and is author of Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog's Life Quality and Longevity. Visit his blog and sign up free to get the latest information about canine cancer. Go to http://www.DogCancerBlog.com.

  • terry

    lumps on stomach not attached non painful

  • Vanessa

    What is the success rate about surgery on a tumor at the anal gland?

  • Matt

    Our dog has been diagnosed with a large tumor near her heart. She passed out today apparently from pressure on her heart due to internal bleeding I believe from the tumor. The tumor i apparently half the size of her heart and the blood is filling the sac around the heart. They have drained the fluid and she is now home but we were told that trying to remove the tumor so close to the heart is almost always fatal and she is . Do you have any guidance for me? Thanks so much. She is the most special dog and we don’t want to lose her.

    • http://DogCancerBlog.com DemianDressler

      Dear Matt,
      this is really tough. Is she on any cardiac medications? Have you started the dog cancer diet (free download on top of this site page)? Any supplements from the Guide?
      Removal of these tumors, I am sorry to say, is often not possible. Be strong in this difficult time,
      Dr D

  • Jay

    I am having the same exact issues with my 13yr old dog as MATT above, they have drained fluid (almost a liter) from around the lungs and heart, and today drained the actual sac I guess..
    They say the only other step is a surgery to remove the sac or something..I havent paid much attention, because I have been so bummed out about the whole situation. I am so confused, because it may work or may continue to build up….anyone have other thoughts or ideas?
    thank you,

  • Fane Tsanos

    Hi my dog has a couple of pink circle things kinda looks like ticks and it get bigger and bigger it isnt that big but it looks like it is , can it be a tumor ? I adore this dog he has saved mine and my sisters life we cant lose him he means the world to me , he has gotten hit by a car before but he has recovered well could that affect anything ? We rescued him so we dont have any medical papers i think we got him when he was 4 please if theres any information that you can give us please do thank you .

    • Dr. Demian Dressler

      Dear Fane
      please take your dog to the veterinarian. He means a lot to you and deserves good medical care. It could be a skin infection, a tumor, bleeding on the inside, fungal infections, or a variety of other issues. Get it checked out please

  • Fane Tsanos

    Ok i will be sure to thank you.

  • JEFF

    we have a13 year old yorki she has lumps alone her teats they have cancer cels in the lumps the vet said she needs operation at a cost of 700 pounds is this good for a dog this old and can this work please .

  • Barb

    Our 12 yr. old lab has many lipomas and a basketball size mass growing in her belly. She was failing two months ago after the vet gave her meds to help with arthritis, resulting in vomiting and loss of appetite. Once we took her off the meds she bounced back. Yet her liver enzymes, already high, have doubled in 2 mos. A week ago one of the tumors broke through and is a weepy mess. They won’t do surgery because of her liver enzyme and she might die under anesthesia. But our dog is miserable and keeps trying to bite the would. Should we go to another vet?

    • Dr. Demian Dressler

      Dear Barb, I would check on liver function testing and bleeding tests which the liver disease can impact, which would then impact surgery. If these are ok, and the other blood work is okay as well, and an abdominal ultrasound shows that we don’t have an inoperable tumor, and otherwise your dog is healthy, I would consider the surgery personally. However, i have done a fair amount of surgery so my comfort level may be higher than others. A second opinion never hurts! Don’t forget about the other ways of dealing with tumors in dogs too…see this blog:
      I hope this helps
      Dr D

  • Sheeba

    Hello Dr. Dressler,
    My golden retriever Sheeba is 11 1/2 years old, tumors on her liver and spleen were just found by ultrasound. She did not show any symptoms of cancer, other than out of range bloodwork, which led to the ultrasound. Would surgery really work for a dog her age and in her condition? Would she live for years? I don’t want to put her though a lot if it’s only going to buy a few weeks. Thank you, Chris

  • Susan Kazara Harper

    You go to the vet. I’m sorry, but being afraid it is bad news, doesn’t stop it from being bad news, it only means you don’t know and can’t help her. If you want to help your dog you need a diagnosis. Knowing is better than being afraid. Please make her an appointment.

  • jamie

    I have a bullmastiff and he has grade 3 mast cell tumor is it worth doing the margin surgery or the buffer blood test.

  • http://photobucket.com/patricia1594 patricia1594

    To see the miraculous results of my dog’s surgery visit photobucket.com/patricia1594 for a picture of my 11 1/2 yr old cocker sitting next to her thirteen pound. It was removed at the last minute to keep from putting her down. Her heart stopped three times during surgery and she spent 72 hours in intensive care. The picture was taken 2 weeks after surgery. Three months have passed and she is running around like a little puppy.

  • rw

    Is there something you can do at home if you can’t afford a vet?

  • Dr. Dressler

    Dear RW,
    yes. You can change your dog’s diet, you can enroll in a clinical study (just posted on that) if you are close, you can increase life quality, you can do touch therapies, you can apply for help at The Magic Bullet Fund and other sources (more in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide), you can use supplements (I use Apocaps), you can make sure your dog gets at least 9 hours of sleep in total darkness and 10 minutes of sun at least twice weekly…to name a few things. I hope some of these at least help.
    Dr D