— HEMANGIOSARCOMA —
Introduction | Part
1 | Part 2 | Part
3 | Conclusion
February 26, 2007 — Last
week you read about the passing of Zeli and Bret Schulte's nine-year-old girl,
Grendel. Grendel had been stricken with a deadly
form of cancer called hemangiosarcoma. She was preceded in death by her "sister" Circe,
who was struck down by the very same disease. I have long been aware of hemangiosarcoma
because it killed my first Great Dane, an eight-year-old brindle named
Bouncer. Since this is a disease that afflicts our breed, perhaps we should take
some time to talk about it.
What is Hemangiosarcoma?
is a rapidly growing, rapidly metastasizing, blood-fed cancer of the soft tissue.
Blood vessels grow directly into the tumor which then becomes engorged with blood.
The tumors eventually rupture, causing the victim to bleed to death. Known as
a silent killer, most dogs are symptom-free until they reach an advanced stage
of the disease. Many die without warning. Symptoms may include decreased
appetite, weight loss, general weakness, lethargy, pale gums, vomiting, and eventually
shock. Blood work may show anemia, low platelet counts, DIC (disseminated intravascular
coagulation). Radiograph or ultrasound screening often reveals the primary cancer
site to be the spleen or heart with involvement of the liver, lungs or brain.
Large breed dogs are more likely to be
affected by hemangiosarcoma, most notably German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers
and Labs. However, as we've just seen, Great Danes are also vulnerable, as are
Boxers, Huskies, Pointers, and Poodles.
Except in cases of skin-based hemangiosarcoma, the prognosis is extremely poor.
The goal of treatment, which can involve surgery and/or chemotherapy, is to extend
a dog's life for a few weeks or possibly a few months. In Grendel's case, Zeli
and Bret went to extreme lengths to slow the course of the disease. Having lost
Circe to a sudden internal hemorrhage due to hemangiosarcoma (unaware
that she even had the disease) they were ready to fight when Grendel was diagnosed.
She underwent surgery. Her spleen was removed along with a large section of
her liver. This bought them another month.
A Unique Perspective
As Zeli puts it, "I have now seen the cancer from both sides – the
sudden loss, and the fight for life." She feels that her recent experiences with
hemangiosarcoma has put her in a unique position to inform us about detection,
the course of the disease, options for treatment and other considerations. She
has graciously offered to share her story here, hoping that it will help others.
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