Understanding and Successfully Treating Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs
Soft tissue sarcomas refers to a category of malignant tumors that develop from the skin and subcutaneous connective tissues such fibrous tissue, fat, smooth muscle, nerves, and lymphatic vessels. These types of tumors are often grouped together due to there similar characteristics.
Sarcomas are common in dogs and account for approximately 15% of all canine cancers. Most sarcomas are considered very invasive to the surrounding areas but generally have a lower risk of metastasis.
Soft tissue sarcomas can develop either on the body surface or inside organs such as the liver and lungs. When sarcomas develop inside the organs, they often become fairly large before detection. They tend to gradually grow and then metastasize after being established for so some time.
Sarcomas account for roughly 15% of all canine cancers. Approximately 15% of skin lumps and 7% of subcutaneous lumps found in dogs are a type of soft-tissue sarcomas.
Main Causes for Soft Cell Sarcoma in Dogs
Currently, the cause for many types of canine cancers including soft tissue sarcomas is unknown, however there does seem to be some indications that external contaminants that can directly affect the immune system play a role. Processed diets that are largely comprised of grains and cheap fillers are commonly considered a main factor in the development of types of canine illnesses.
Some studies have also indicated a correlation between metallic implants and soft cell sarcomas. Other factors such as vaccinations, exposure to herbicides and pesticides also are noted to challenge the immune system allowing for disease and cancers to develop.
A fine needle aspirate is an easy, non-invasive test that can often confirm the presence of a sarcoma. A biopsy may used to confirm as well as classify the exact type of soft tissue sarcoma.
Once diagnosed, often the next step is to evaluate the current state using ultrasounds, radiographs, and or blood work.
Some soft tissue sarcomas have been associated with metal implants, exposure to radiation, implanted microchips and certain parasitic infestations.
The prognosis often depends upon the grade and the location of the tumor. For cases where complete surgical removal is possible, then the outlook can be very promising.
For cases of high grade sarcomas where surgery is not possible, the long-term prognosis is not as . Chemotherapy is administered to help delay the onset of metastasis, however the median survival time for these patients is less than one year.
The prognosis for low grade soft tissue sarcomas that are followed by radiation therapy are also considered promising. Approximately 85% of these patients are tumor free three years after diagnosis.
Most common types of canine sarcomas:
- Fibrosarcoma – arises from fibrous connective tissue
- Fibrous histiocytoma
- Hemangiopericytoma – arises from cells surrounding small blood vessels
- Hemangiosarcoma – arises from cells that line small blood vessels; often classified separately from the other categories of soft tissue sarcomas due to its aggressive biological behavior
- Leiomyosarcoma – arises from smooth muscle tissue
- Liposarcoma – arises from connective tissue
- Lymphoma (Lymphosarcoma) – arises in lymph nodes and in organs with lymphoid tissue, including the bone marrow, liver and spleen
- Lymphangiosarcoma – arises from lymphatic tissue
- Neurofibrosarcoma – arises from nerve cells
- Osteosarcoma – arises from bone
- Rhabdomyosarcoma – arises from muscle cells
- Schwannoma – arises from nerve sheaths
- Synovial cell sarcoma
Middle-aged and older dogs as well as certain dog breeds appear to be at higher risk for developing sarcomas.
- Hemangiosarcoma – German Shepherds
- Hystiocytic sarcoma – Rottweiler, Flat-Coated Retriever, Bernese Mountain Dog
- Soft-tissue sarcoma – Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever
- Osteosarcoma (more often in large breeds) — Golden Retriever, Rottweiler, Greyhound, Flat-Coated Retriever, Afghan Hound, Irish Wolfhound, Great Dane
- Liposarcoma – Shetland Sheepdog
Conventional Treatments for Soft Cell Sarcoma in Dogs
Complete surgical removal is the preferred treatment for soft tissue sarcomas if possible. When these type of tumors are excised surgically with “clean” surgical margins, no further treatment may be necessary. An inspection of the excised tissue may be performed by a pathologist in order to determine if all the tumorous cells have been removed or if a second more aggressive surgical procedure is needed. In some instances, aggressive surgery can cause severe disfigurement or loss of function.
Radiation treatments may be used to kill off any cancer cells left over from surgery, or in cases where aggressive surgery is not possible, radiation therapy can be used to prevent or delay regrowth of the tumor. Radiation therapy is generally well-tolerated in dogs, and side effects are usually confined to the area where the treatment is performed.
Chemotherapy is sometimes recommended for high-grade sarcomas in order to prevent or delay the onset of metastases. It may be administered alone or combined with other chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy is generally well tolerated in dogs on the whole, but some side effects do occur.
Conventional methods can address tumor and attain remission, but to retain health for the long term, it’s recommended to combine these procedures with ongoing dietary treatments to ensure the highest chance of success.
Holistic approaches tend to address a much broader spectrum than just the tumor itself. It takes into consideration the patient as well as the cause for the disease. It applies the understanding that the body has the ability to heal it self if functioning properly. In fact, it’s only the body that can heal, so by aiding the body with this function, the patient has a greater chance of restoring health.
The holistic philosophy leans more towards treating the patient and not the disease. This is a strong distinction and an important as it strives to promote a healthy immune system and create an environment free of disease.
Holistic treatments can and often should be combined with conventional canine cancer treatments to insure the best results. Often time cancerous tumors are completely removed, however the underlying cause and the patients overall health was not addressed and a relapse occurs.
In recent years, many holistic treatments have been embraced by conventional veterinarians. As more evidence is discovered as to dietary issues and the adverse affects on canine health, the benefits of dietary treatments has also been acknowledged.
Is it a Case of Faulty Genes?
In the vast majority of soft tissue sarcoma cases, absolutely not. Some types of cancer are more common it certain breeds. With sarcomas, middle to older dogs tend to be more prone, however, it’s important to understand that predisposed does not mean predetermined! Genetics are a factor, but there are many other factors as well.
For cancer, or any disease to develop, a dysfunction in the immune system must be present. So by addressing this area, we can greatly reduce illness regardless of what genetic challenges a certain breed has.
All that being said, when a breed is more predisposed, this simply means that when something is challenging the immune system, this is the weakest link that we often find the effects first.
Many dogs have these same “weak links” and go on to live a healthy full lives, while some unfortunately do not. Genes are merely blueprints, and it’s how well these these blueprints are properly built upon and maintained that makes the difference.
External factors such as dietary complications and toxins are a main factor in affecting the digestive tract and immune system, which are directly linked. This intern allows for the cells to be altered and cancer to develop.