Case of the week: Fenway
The Santaw Family of Summerville are always very exciting visitors for us here at AMC. They bring with them a gaggle of fluffy golden retriever love!! After the loss of their 14 year old Golden, Brina to cancer in early 2014, it was over a year before they were ready to add a new puppy to their pack. In June, they added a beautiful new golden retriever pup, Fenway, to their family. Fenway is a great addition to the family and fit right in with the families’ other two golden retrievers right away.
Fenway came in for her first visit with us and started her puppy vaccine series appearing healthy and happy like most other puppies. Her parents did notice that she had a small bump on her arm and asked Dr. Parrott to look at it during her exam. Fenway had a small bump behind her elbow. Because Fenway had just joined their family and the family was not sure of when the bump had appeared, Dr. Parrott discussed monitoring the bump and possibly removing it for biopsy during Fenway’s spay. This was especially important due to Fenway’s breed: Golden retrievers have a higher incidence of cancer than many other breeds.
By the time she returned for her vaccination booster several weeks later, the bump had already increased in size and Dr. Parrott recommended we collect a small sample of the growth and examine it under the microscope to check for abnormal cells. Unfortunately, when the sample was examined, there was a type of abnormal cell present – mast cells. Mast cell tumors are cancerous proliferations of mast cells. Although they can and will spread throughout the body, the danger from mast cell tumors arises from the secondary damage caused by the release of chemicals that they produce. These chemicals can cause systemic problems that include gastric ulcers, internal bleeding, and a range of allergic manifestations. This type of cancer may be relatively innocent or aggressively malignant. As mast cell tumors are very common in dogs, it is important for the regular pet owner to have at least a basic understanding of what they are and how they work.
Mast cells are specialized cells that normally are found distributed throughout the body and help an animal respond to inflammation and allergies. Mast cells can release several biological chemicals when stimulated. Although these chemicals are vital to normal bodily function, especially immune response, they can be very damaging to the body when released in chronic excess. Diagnosis hopefully begins early when the alert pet-owner notices a growth on their dog. The vet may take a fine-needle aspirate from the growth to submit a sample for preliminary biopsy. The entire tumor will then need to be fully removed, if possible, and submitted for biopsy to determine how aggressively malignant the cancer appears to be.
Treatment for mast cell tumors almost always first involves surgically removing the entire tumor, if that is possible. The tumor is then submitted to a laboratory for biopsy, and a pathology report is generated. Beyond complete surgical excision, treatment options depend on factors that suggest the aggressiveness and status of the cancer. Low-grade tumors are generally treated locally with surgery, with or without radiation. High-grade tumors may be treated systemically with chemotherapy. Sometimes the only “treatment” if the cancer has spread within the body is supportive care intended not to extend the dogs life but to make what remains of it as comfortable as possible.
As soon as Dr. Parrott noted that mast cells were present in the sample from the growth, Fenway was scheduled for surgery to remove the growth. Fenway was 12 weeks old with the whole of her life ahead. The best chance to give Fenway a healthy normal life was to remove the tumor and then have an oncologist review the results of the biopsy and treat her for any cells that may have spread. Fenway was referred to Dr. Rissetto at Charleston Veterinary Referral Center. A veterinary oncologist is a veterinarian with advanced training and expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Because Fenway’s tumor was identified by the pathologist as a higher grade or more aggressive type of Mast cell tumor, she will be undergoing additional treatment at CVRC to prevent/treat spread of the cancer.
Dogs who have had mast cell tumors are more likely to develop more mast cell tumors. Prognosis is highly variable and dependent on many factors including tumor location, histologic grade and clinical stage. Fenway will always have to be monitored closely for the rest of her life even after completing treatment for her current tumor.
Luckily, Fenway’s tumor was identified early and just like all the other pets in their family, Fenway has pet insurance to help her family defray the cost of her treatment.
The bottom line is that if you notice any type of lump on your dog it is important to get it evaluated right away. When caught early mast cell tumors can be treated successfully, however they can also spread with fatal consequences. Just because one mast cell tumor is benign, does not mean all of them on the dog will be. Each and every lump should be evaluated by your veterinarian as they appear.
Fenway is now 15 weeks old and we hope you will join us as we keep their family in our thoughts and prayers as they fight Fenway’s cancer.