A hemangiosarcoma is a tumor of the blood vessels. Hemangiosarcomas occur in the skin, on the heart and in the abdominal organs. They are aggressive, malignant tumors that quickly spread to other organs. Anemia is the most common phenomenon. Hemangiosarcomas are regularly seen in dogs. They are rare in cats.
Hemangiosarcoma in the skin
A hemangiosarcoma in the skin looks like purple or black nodule. The hairless skin of the abdomen or the foreskin are places where they occur most often. The tumors are painless and the dog is not sick of it. Yet it is a serious, life-threatening condition. The tumor sows rapidly to other parts of the body and must therefore be removed surgically as soon as possible, possibly followed by chemotherapy. The hemangiosarcoma in the skin is one of the examples of innocent-looking nodules that must be treated quickly and appropriately. Here, ‘wait and see’ is not a good strategy!
Hemangiosarcoma in the spleen
More often hemangiosarcomas occur in the abdomen. In principle, they can occur in all abdominal organs, but the most common site is the spleen. The hemangiosarcoma of the spleen is a tumor that is regularly seen in large dogs from middle to older age. With certain breeds we see this tumor more often than with others. These include German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Bernese Mountain Dog and Flatcoated Retriever. At first there are no symptoms at all. The tumor causes no pain and the dog does not feel sick. The tumor grows slowly and nothing indicates that the dog suffers a life-threatening illness. Disease symptoms usually only occur when the tumor starts to bleed. Slowness, reduced stamina, lack of appetite and pale mucous membranes are caused by the resulting anemia. If the tumor ruptures, the bleeding can be so intense that the animal will become shocked within a few hours.
Treatment consists of the surgical removal of the spleen containing the tumor. If the blood loss is severe, the dog will first be stabilized with a blood transfusion. Most dogs quickly recover after the operation. However, the outlook is bleak. Due to the long absence of symptoms, the diagnosis is often made at a late stage. And because a hemangiosarcoma is an aggressive, malignant tumor, there are often metastases at the time of treatment. These metastases will also bleed after a while, and then treatment is no longer possible. Dogs with a bleeding miltumor removed on average live for another month or three.
It is possible to start treatment with chemotherapy. This is usually well tolerated and barely causes side effects. The expected lifespan is thus extended to an average of about 6 months. A single dog lives for another year.
The purpose of this article is to give background information about a certain condition. It does not replace the advice of a veterinarian and it is certainly not the intention that you yourself will make the diagnosis. Always consult a veterinarian if you have doubts about the health of your dog or cat.