Today we’ll be wrapping up our month-long series on pet cancers with tumors of the spleen. These tumors are particularly troublesome because they often go undetected until it is almost too late. In addition, in acute cases, it doesn’t matter whether a splenic tumor is benign or malignant – either way, they can be fatal.
The spleen is an oblong organ that sits under the stomach and not only stores blood, but also filters out old and fragile red blood cells. Tumors that affect the spleen do not necessarily make your pet appear outwardly ill, which is why they can go undetected for so long.
Splenic tumors may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). But because the spleen is full of blood vessels and blood, any tumor is dangerous. Unnoticed splenic tumors can eventually grow so large that they break open and bleed freely. In a vascular organ like the spleen, the amount of blood loss can be fatal.
The typical presentation of a ruptured splenic tumor is a pet that seemed completely fine earlier in the day, but rapidly becomes weak, develops pale gums, and pants or can’t seem to catch her breath. All of these symptoms are due to blood loss, and this is a medical emergency.
Luckily, the spleen is not a vital organ, so removing it will remove the short-term danger. Prior to surgery, an X-ray can be done to check for metastasis to the lungs, and sometimes metastasis can be seen once the surgeon is into the abdomen. Once the spleen (and tumor) is removed, it can be biopsied to find out whether the tumor is benign or malignant.
If the tumor turns out to be malignant, the cancer has most likely already spread, but chemotherapy options exist to lengthen your pet’s disease-free interval. The good news is that if the tumor was benign, removal of the spleen will cure your pet.
Cancer certainly is a heavy subject, and I have to admit that I’m glad this month is over so that we can focus on lighter, but equally important, topics. I hope your pets never develop cancer, but being informed and educated can make a cancer diagnosis a little less scary.
Above all, keep the lines of communication open with your veterinarian and be sure to ask any questions that you think of. If your vet can’t answer your questions, he or she can refer you to someone who can. And remember – it’s never wrong to get a second opinion!