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

A Useful Discussion for Dogs With Cancer

Updated: May 15th, 2024

I received a question recently that involves a common situation for guardians coping with a dog cancer diagnosis.

So, to benefit everyone, I am including my answers here, in the hopes that you can apply the information to how you manage your dog with cancer.

This case is Almond, who is a 10 year female mix.  Almond’s guardian was advised to watch a growth to see if it increased in size.

I believe that, since half the dogs over the age of 10 will get cancer, that every mass should be checked with at least a fine needle aspirate.

We cannot tell if a tumor is malignant with the naked eye most of the time.  And we cannot tell if a tumor that is not increasing in size is not sending cells off to internal organs (metastasizing).

Almond’s guardian eventually had the growth removed and biopsied.  Good work. Always get that pathologist’s report so you have some idea of what to expect from this growth. Some are benign too, or some are completely removed with a single surgery.  So always get the biopsy report.

The path report revealed a grade 2 mast cell tumor. Now, it is true that all mast cell tumors have the potential to be malignant. But here we have general guiding information that this is an intermediate grade, meaning some aggressively spread and some do not. So we have a gray zone to deal with in what we can expect.

This can be frustrating. Luckily, for some cancers, there are further tests that can be done to pinpoint more accurately these gray zone path report.

Mast cell tumors, and other cancers, have something called mitotic index. This is the relative number of dividing cells that the pathologist sees on the slide. Higher mitotic index usually means faster growth and more aggressive behavior.

Generally, with grade 2 mast cell tumors, if the mitotic index is 5 or less, these tumors behave in a more benign fashion.

This means that the odds of spread are low after a proper surgery is done.  Having said that, we still need to realize that some of these can surprise us and spread.  But all told, most of these will be cured with a wide excision.

Wide excision means that a large swath of normal appearing tissue is removed around the lump (tumor).  This increases our odds of removing the cancer completely.

If we receive a diagnosis of mast cell tumor, or any cancer that has the potential to be life threatening for that matter, I always advise a wide excision around the tumor site, even if this means a second surgery.  Get the bad cells out if you can.

This would be a good thing for Almond’s mom to consider first, if the surgery was not initially a wide excision.

Almond’s treatment plan was discussed.  One of the first steps in dealing with dog cancer is to define what kind of person are you, as a guardian?  Is your priority life extension or life quality? Both? Most conventional steps, in particular chemotherapy and radiation, have life quality effects that are in proportion to life extension gained.

This means if we get better cancer responses, the odds of treatment side effects go up.

You must define what your priorities are.  Write it down. This will be your guide in how you make treatment decisions.

Next is the topic of what other steps should be taken.  Chemotherapy was brought up (we will get to this in a moment).  However, I wonder what about diet? Apocaps? Other supplements? Life quality enhancement? These are useful measures to take when a dog is producing tumors.

What about chemo? Well, getting data is a good thing.  We have looked at Palladia in a few posts.  By the way, please use the search bar to the right of this screen to search for specific cancer topics.

We see that 42.8% of dogs respond to this chemo drug, and that the response length averages, at most, 4.5 months.  Hm.  To answer whether or not this is a good gain, we must go back to that question: what kind of person am I?

How about side effects? Here is the data submitted to the FDA for approval of Palladia as a New Animal Drug at a dose commonly used in practice:

Dose:  3.5 mg/kg every other day

No of Dogs: 20

Side effects:

Diarrhea : 50%

Anorexia (loss of appetite): 40%

Vomiting: 5%

Fatigue  15%

Hind limb weakness: 15%

Neutropenia: (drop in the numbers of a white cell): 0%

Do these numbers hold for every dog?  Of course not. Twenty dogs were used.  These side effects may not happen, or other side effects could possibly happen that did not occur in these twenty dogs.

And perhaps the doses being used by a given oncologist are lower than the dose assessed here, which also would tend to lower side effects.

However, this is a guide, a starting point to assess what the side effects odds could be.

Now, Almond’s guardian has the data she needs.  Perhaps the benefits of Palladia are sufficient for her to treat her dog, taking into consideration the big picture, or perhaps not.

It all depends on the answer to the question: what kind of person am I?

For more information like this, read The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.


Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Maria sue szakmary on November 10, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    My sweet boy is 13yrs old and he was diagnosed with neoplasia cancer and the oncologist is recommending palladia treatment he weighs 21lbs.
    How much does drug cost?

  2. Margie Ford on June 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    My 10 year old female Maltese has squamous cell carcinoma. Just yesterday she had surgery to remove it. It’s on her lip. The surgeon said that it was a very aggressive tumor, and if he didn;t get it all, she might have to have part of her jaw removed. I’m worried that, if he did get it all, will it come back? She also has cushing disease, could that be why she has the cancer? She is very rarely outside.
    Thank you for your time.

  3. moonlightshines on March 17, 2012 at 5:53 am

    Here are some examples of salvestrols being used to treat dogs with cancer:

    We read on the internet, that Salvestrol was able to kill cancer cells, so when we couldn’t find any Salvestrol in Denmark. We found it in UK (Amazon).
    We have a Dachshund who is ten years old, and he has cancer.
    He lost a lot of weight, and was quite sick. So we gave him a Salvestrol Capsule everyday for a week, after seven days he began to gain his lost weight, and became more fresh. We have since been giving him a capsule every day. He acts and looks like a puppy.

    Mrs K : standard poodle with lower leg tumour, predicted 4 weeks to live. Given Salvestrol supplement for 7 months by breaking a capsule and mixing with food. Although the leg eventually had to be amputated, the cancer did not spread and the dog remained bright and active. The vet said to continue with Salvestrols because they prevented a normally very aggressive type of cancer from spreading beyond the leg.

    YR : dog had bladder cancer. Given Salvestrol supplement for some months and the cancer is no longer detectable.

    MM : dog has sarcoma and predicted 6-12 months to live. Being given Salvestrol supplement daily. After Salvestrol supplementation tumours reduced from 8 cm in size to 2.5 cm – so at six month check up no surgery was required.

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on March 21, 2012 at 3:19 pm

      I cannot find any actual publications concerning this substance, but I can find a PR buzz. Do a search for Savestrol in pubmed and nothing arises. It is either a created name to label something with a different scientific name, or it is made from other constituents. In order to assess this stuff we need more information about it specifically. Most items that were later shown to be ineffective have their individual success stories, and since there is a lot of variation in how well cancer patients do it can be hard to say if something is having real effects versus individual variation that would have occurred regardless. Are there any animal studies on this that you can refer us to?
      Dr D

  4. Stephanie E. on January 30, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    We’ve got two Bostons that are stumping the vets and the oncologists. Grit was diagnosed with a MTC at the age of 4 and had it surgically removed – it was a grade 1 and we started him on a grain-free diet (Orijen and Stella and Chewy’s Raw Patties) and BioPrep, Cell Advance, Vetri-Liver and Fish Oil supplements. In addition he drinks the water we drink, out of the water cooler (not filtered tap water). We also took him to a holistic vet that gave him some injections. 1 year and 4 months later he had two more MTCs appear last week and he is having surgery on Friday. Obviously, we were devasted because we have taken every step we found to prevent this from returning.

    Our other Boston, Rocco, was diagnosed at the end of December with a MTC and had it surgically removed. It was a Grade 2 and we caught the second it showed up because he has short smoot fur. The margins were not wide so he underwent a second surgery last week.

    Where it gets weird is we know Bostons are pre-disposed to MTCs but everyone has told us that is it not common in younger dogs and it is very strange that these two are not related but yet both got them so young. We spoke with the breeder and she told us not one of her Bostons has EVER had cancer or any tumors or growths of any sort and told us Rocco’s bloodline was the strongest line she has ever produced. Therefore we know it is not hereditary, we feed them top quality grain-free foods, and they drink spring water from the water cooler.

    We are starting to think about environmental factors that could be causing this but have no idea where to even start – we live a pretty organic lifestyle, have got rid of all the dog toys that are suspected toxic (i.e. made in China or plastic) and other than the yearly lawn fertilization and some bug spray nothing stands out to us. Any suggestions or ideas?

    • Dr. Demian Dressler on February 8, 2012 at 5:57 pm

      Dear Stephanie,
      mast cell tumor is NOT an old dog disease and the breed is genetically prone.
      However there are more factors discussed in the Guide which I would take the time to read if you are serious about learning more concerning cancer causes- too much for here.
      For the time being, here is another reply for a similar situation that may help to take action:

      I would talk with your vet about starting apocaps due to the luteolin content. I would use the dog cancer diet discussed in the Guide and also the free download on this blog but take it easy on the fish. Use krill oil instead of fish oil. Use antacids and talk to your vet about using cimetidine for this due to its antimetastatic effects. I would certainly read the Guide so you can get more information. You could talk to you vet about possibly some oral chemo if the problem warrants it. Also don’t forget to double check your dog’s insides are okay (liver, spleen especially) with lab work and ultrasound. Meanwhile here are some posts for you:

  5. Kathy K. on August 22, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Our 14 y/o border collie mix was diagnosed in January with adrenal carcinoma which precipitated pleural effusion (fluid around a lung). Her only symptom was a cough. She was put on carboplatin in February and has cont’d every 21 days. We had had great success but have noticed the cough creeping back. Is the cancer building a tolerance to the carbo? Our vet is recommending other chemo drugs and we are afraid of side effects. She tolderated carbo well and clinically looks great….despite the cough. What about Palladia? Side effects? Would greatly appreciate your help.

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