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

Dog Cancer Words You Should Know: Grade and Stage

Updated: December 21st, 2018

I think it is important to clear up some words about dog cancer, and cancer in general.  It helps to define what you are talking about with the vet or oncologist so you can get the best info to make your decisions.

As your dog’s primary health advocate, you will be called upon to make some choices.  When that time comes, you need to have the clarity of thought to make wise decisions.

So, let’s clarify some terms!



Medical people throw the terms stage andgrade around like everyone knows what they are talking about.  They are kind of close conceptually, but are not the same.

The stage of a tumor usually refers to how far along it is.  When we say “stage”, we look at the size of the tumor, the number of tumors, and whether the cancer cells have invaded the system to travel to other sites in the body.

So a late stage tumor, or a late stage cancer, usually means it is far along.  Generally speaking, this implies it is more difficult to cure or get long term remissions.

An early stage tumor or cancer means that it is not far along.  Usually these are smaller, fewer, and have not traveled to other sites in the body other than where you find the tumor or cancer cells.

The grade of the cancer describes how aggressive it is.  This means that a low grade cancer is one that is not very aggressive, but a high grade cancer is more aggressive.


Get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide for more helpful information and tools


Aggressive cancers do things like grow quickly, invade the area right around the tumor, or get into the circulation and spread to other body parts (metastasis).  More aggressiveness means more danger.

Certain cancers have different grades.

Mast cell tumors, white blood cell tumors (lymphosarcoma, leukemia), mammary tumors (breast cancer), melanomas,  and hemangiosarcomas can vary in terms of their aggressiveness.  Some advance very quickly while others are more smoldering.  So you have different grades in single cancer types.

Osteosarcoma (the most common bone cancer in dogs) is usually aggressive. So usually this cancer type is high grade.

Different cases of cancer can have different stages too.

You could have a bladder cancer (usually transitional cell carcinoma) that is a tiny bump in the bladder wall (but has not spread) in one dog, and a large bladder mass that has spread to lymph nodes in another.

This is an example where you have the same cancer type, but different stages in different dogs.

Let’s keep the info stream going so you can best help your dog!

Best,

Dr Dressler


Discover the Full Spectrum Approach to Dog Cancer

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  1. David M. Dietz on November 13, 2019 at 3:25 am

    My 35lb. Cocker Beagle was diagnosed with Neuro endocrine cancer in March 2019. I bought the survival guide immediately. I have used the diet religiously every day, also apocaps,transfer factor,k9 immunity,beta glucans,mod. Citrus pectin,krill oil. Artemisinin once or twice a week at 200 mg. My oncologist has prescribed Palladia 43 mg on Mon Wed Fri. And just today is adding chlorambucil 3mg on the the days in between Palladia. The 4 cm tumor is dangerously close to the inferior vena cava and adrenal gland which eliminates surgery and radiation. Please help with more aggressive ideas such as higher doses and more frequent Artemisinin and or beta humans and polysaccharides. This little girl is the love of our lives for me and my wife. Your ideas would be a present from Heaven ! Thank you, David M. Dietz

  2. Carol Moore on February 27, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    Missi, my 10 year old Bichon Frise was diagnosed with anal gland cancer in July 2018. At that stage her tumour was the size of a marble. Following a scan, the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes near her spine.

    Today, the tumour is the size of a grapefruit and I have just found a lump on her flank, the same side as her cancer, the size of a tangerine. Do you think this could also be cancerous?

    I’m pretty sure it’s spread to her lungs as she coughs a lot and at times her breathing is like a whistle.

    Are you able to estimate how long Missi is likely to survive?

    Thank you.

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on February 28, 2019 at 6:26 am

      Hello Carol,

      Thanks for writing, and we’re sorry to hear about Missi. As Dr. Sue writes in this article, if a lump is larger than 1cm, or has been there for over a month, get it checked by your vet ASAP. Your vet will be able to do a Fine Needle Aspirate (if possible), and let you know what that lump is 🙂

      There are many elements that have to be taken into consideration when estimating a median survival time for your girl, and as we’re not veterinarians, we can’t give you an estimate. In Chapter 39 of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Dr. Sue dedicates an entire chapter to Perianal, and Anal Sac Tumors, where she discusses risks, signs, diagnosis, prognosis, protocols, and more, that you may find helpful.

      You may also find these articles to be beneficial:

  3. Sad in SC on July 31, 2014 at 5:12 am

    Dr. Dressler, my 12 year old lab had a large mass on her adrenal gland. The gland was removed about 3 weeks ago. It was cancer and it had invaded her lymphatic system. The oncologist recommended 5 cycles of Carboplatin. What are your thoughts? Is it worth putting her through the chemo?

    • Susan Kazara Harper on July 31, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Hello, I’m afraid Dr. Dressler simply can’t go through all the blog posts that we get, so we do our best to respond and help. I’m not a vet, but I am an Animal Health Consultant on Team Dog here, so let me give you some thoughts.
      If you have the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, Carboplatin is discussed on page 405 (in the hard copy of the book). If you have it electronically you can search for the term. Basically, carboplatin is a newer drug with fewer and much less severe side effects than cisplatin. It is expensive yet on the other hand, it doesn’t require daylong hospitalization, extra staff or extra IV fluids.
      Another advantage is that carboplatin does not directly damage the kidneys, does not cause vomiting during administration and does not require an extensive procedure. It takes ten to fifteen minutes to inject the drug, making it a much less intense than cisplatin.
      The main side effect is bone marrow suppression,
      especially the white blood cells and platelets. If this occurs it will likely be in ten to fourteen days. So checking on the bone marrow with a CBC is a standard follow up, as is monitoring your
      dog at home for easy bruising or bleeding problems.
      Your oncologist may also recommend antibiotics
      While carboplatin does not directly damage the kidneys like cisplatin does, it is ultimately cleared from the body through the kidneys and the urine. If your dog has kidney problems, your oncologist will likely reduce the dose to decrease the chance of side effects.
      The decision to go ahead or not, I’m afraid is yours. You are lucky to have an oncologist to work with. Remember that the vets are employed by you. They can give you the benefit of their expertise, but you are an expert on your dog. I hope you’re on the Dog Cancer Diet, and going forward, Apocaps would very likely help your girl, whether or not you choose this treatment. What’s important to your girl, is how she feels every day when she wakes up, and how you’re coping. Share your fears and concerns with her, and she’ll help you know what she needs. All the best. We’re all thinking of you both as you go through the next steps.

      • Sad in SC on August 1, 2014 at 7:57 am

        Susan, thank you so much for your advise! I will get Dr. Dresslers book. We did start chemo yesterday and I have decided to see how she does with this round. If she develops adverse reactions my family and I have decided we will discontinue and keep her comfortable and happy for the time she has left with us. I know we can’t keep her forever and I don’t want her to be miserable while she is here. This has been so difficult for me. I can’t imagine how parents that have children with cancer can handle it. It’s all I can do to stay strong for my dog. I love her so much!

        • Susan Kazara Harper on August 3, 2014 at 12:19 pm

          Just please know i n your heart, that your girl loves you and knows absolutely that you are doing everything you believe will help her. Our dogs ask so little of us, and trust us so much. It is all about the moment, this one, right now. They don’t fret about tomorrow. So do your best, enjoy every moment, and know that we are all supporting you and your family.

        • Sad in SC on August 4, 2014 at 3:00 am

          Susan, you sent the kindest reply and I don’t know what button I hit on my iPad but it hid or deleted it in error. Thank you so much for your kind words!

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