Good news to people with dogs suffering from an aggressive form of cancer called hemangiosarcoma, as a recent study by Dr. Dorothy Cimino Brown and Dr. Jennifer Reetz of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine shows extremely promising findings. The Coriolus versicolor mushroom has been used for over 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine, and now the administration of a compound derived from the fungus has produced the longest survival times on record for dogs suffering with the blood-borne disease.
Long considered among the most aggressive and lethal of cancers, hemangiosarcoma survival outcomes are both dismal and short. A foe the Knoxville Dog Health Examiner knows all too well, this cancer has presented hard choices and all-too-predictable outcomes. Miraculously, the researchers found median survival times more than tripled simply with the addition of this compound to the canine patients' daily regimens.
Usually found in the spleen, heart or beneath the skin, hemangiosarcoma tumors are blood-filled and surprisingly delicate in structure. Early detection is key, but this can present quite a challenge as symptoms are both subtle and diverse. Tumors often remain undiscovered until one actually ruptures, which in many cases is too late.
The most common early symptoms include:
- Decreased appetite
- Mild anemia (blood test required to detect)
- Slight elevation of liver enzymes (blood test required to detect)
Unfortunately, due to the subtlety of initial symptoms and the rapid progress of the disease, pet caregivers often remain unaware of its presence until a tumor ruptures and subsequently hemorrhages. Signs of such a potentially fatal event include:
- Panting and/or unproductive coughing or vomiting
- Pale gums and tongue
- Weakness, or even collapse
- Swollen abdomen
- Rapid heart rate combined with a weak, often fluttering pulse
Common in certain breeds, the risk for this cancer grows as dogs progress beyond age 6. The most afflicted breeds include, but are NOT limited to:
- Golden Retrievers (experts estimate 1 in 5 will develop the disease)
- Flat Coated Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Portuguese Water Dogs
If you have one of these breeds, it is essential you have annual bloodwork done up to age 10, then increase frequency to every 6 months. Indeed, all dogs should receive annual bloodwork as they age. You also may consider annual ultrasound exams at this point, if your budget allows it.
Until this study, the only treatment (if any) was removal of the spleen followed by aggressive chemotherapy. Some studies suggest this combination improved survival time from up to 90 days to up to 180 days, which is small consolation when it's your beloved pet. Such terrible odds explain the potential magnitude of the study's findings.
While likely not preventable, with vigilance and a little luck hemangiosarcoma can be detected early, and may yet become a survivable disease thanks to these promising lines of research.
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