What is Bone Marrow Cancer?
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Symptoms of Bone Marrow Cancer in Dogs
Symptoms can vary and affect multiple organs and tissues. Dogs affected by Myeloma show signs of general discomfort including weakness, lethargy, apathy and loss of appetite. Clinical symptoms are caused by the abnormal presence of immunoglobulins and plasma cells in the bones and other tissues and they include:
- Bone lesions, especially long bones of the limbs, back bones, ribs and skull.
- Severe bleeding and anemia.
- Blood hyperviscosity.
- Cardiac complications.
- Renal failure.
- Severe immunodeficiency and increased susceptibility to infections.
- Neurological issues such as dementia.
There is only one type of Myeloma, although it can be named differently such as multiple Myeloma (MM) or bone marrow cancer.
Causes of Bone Marrow Cancer in Dogs
The causes of Myeloma are still unknown; the cancer generally appears between 8 and 9 years of age and certain breeds have higher predisposition such as German Shepherds, Boxers and Golden Retrievers. No correlation between the onsets in male or female dogs has been reported. There is a possibility that Myeloma is triggered by genetic causes; some studies indicate that the misregulation and the functional disruption of a protein called Cyclin D can be responsible for the disease. In humans, plasma cell cancer is often linked to environmental factors, such as pollution by chemical and toxin agents and this cannot be completely excluded as risk factor triggering the cancer in dogs.
Diagnosis of Bone Marrow Cancer in Dogs
Similarly, to other diseases, it is recommended that veterinarians run a thorough physical examination of the animal alongside with more specific biological analysis, this will help to deliver a clear and an accurate diagnosis. In a dog the presence of Myeloma is confirmed when at least two of the following signs are detected.
- High concentration of immunoglobulins (antibodies-paraproteins) in the blood.
- Bone lesions and areas of severe bone loss.
- A value >5% of neoplastic cells in the bone marrow.
- A value comprises between 10% to 20% of plasma cells in the bone marrow.
- Bence Jones immunoglobulins in the urine.
Thus an accurate diagnosis should include:
- Blood count and a complete blood cell profile.
- Assessment of blood coagulation and serum viscosity.
- Urine sampling including detection of Bence Jones immunoglobulins.
- Radiographic and ultrasound analysis to look at bone density, presence of bone lesions and state of abdominal organs.
- Biopsy of osteolytic lesions.
- Analysis of bone marrow aspirate.
Pet owners are called to strictly observe their dog’s behavior with specific attention if there are any signs of weakness and tiredness, or if the animal bleeds or if thirstier and urinates often.
Treatment of Bone Marrow Cancer in Dogs
Treatments for MM target the cancer itself (primary treatments) or they are more directed to all secondary effects caused by the cancer (secondary treatments).Primary treatments
- Chemotherapy is for sure the treatment of choice for MM and in the majority of cases it has successfully reduced the cancer size and symptoms, however this cannot be considered as a complete cure. Melphalan is the most recommended chemotherapy agent that works by blocking all cell replication including cancer cells. Melphalan is an oral drug and it is often prescribed together with Prednisolone (antinflammatory). The treatment duration varies between 5 to 21 days and common side effects are immunosuppression (myelosuppression) and a reduction in blood clotting (thrombocytopenia). Cyclophosphamide and Chlorambucil are alternatives to Melphalan with a similar mechanism of action. If chemotherapy is successful it can takes up to 6 weeks to see an improvement of the dog’s clinical signs and biological values.
- Radio therapy is another primary treatment although it is less common than chemotherapy and it can only treat a specific area.
- Aggressive fluid therapy is employed for renal failure and hypercalcemia; as long-term treatment is used to ensure an adequate hydration to the dog.
- Antibiotics are mainly used to treat secondary infections.
- Orthopedic surgery to repair fracture bones.
Novel therapeutic approaches such as stem cells transplant and compounds used to treat other diseases such as Thalidomide and Toceranib phosphate are now undergoing clinical studies.
Recovery of Bone Marrow Cancer in Dogs
In the majority of cases chemotherapy greatly improves dog conditions and can result in long time remissions. During the therapy a complete blood cell count is necessary every two weeks together with protein analysis to strictly monitor effects of chemotherapy agent on bone marrow. Once values are back to normal levels blood analysis can be performed monthly together with bone density and X-rays.
Unfortunately chemotherapy and all secondary treatment of MM do not represent the cure, however a good improvement of the dog’s quality of life can often be achieved; extraordinary results have been shown from a study conducted on 60 animals treated with chemotherapy where 43% reported a complete remission, 49% a partial remission and only the 8% did not responded to the therapy. Median survival of a dog treated with chemotherapy is of 540 days compared to dog treated with Prednisolone only.
Bone Marrow Cancer Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Dylan started showing symptoms about 2 weeks ago. Started with not wanting to eat his food one day. We doctored up his food to get him to eat. He would either regurgitate it within an hour or so or vomit many hours later. Seemed to be more tired than usual. He was a little irritable with our other younger dog.
Took Dylan to see the vet on May 30th. Blood work that was done initially showed negative for heartworm and all major tick diseases known for our area. His electrolyte panel was all normal. The problem was that his platelet count was at 4,000. Vet suspected auto immune issue with possibly an infection causing it.
Started him on the doxycycline, famotidine, and prednisone. Vet said he may need a blood transfusion. On June 5th he had a blood recheck and his platelets dropped a little more plus now his white blood cells are now dropping. Vet now suspects bone marrow cancer? She added azathioprine to his meds. She said to watch him carefully due to his severe risk of bleeding.
She said a blood transfusion would not help him now either. He is scheduled for a return visit on June 11th. She said if no improvement on the next blood draw, then there is basically nothing more that can be done other than keep him comfortable. She said that advanced treatment most likely would not work for him and doing a bone marrow biopsy would be too stressful & painful for him. Is she correct or should I be seeking a 2nd opinion from another vet?
We're keeping him "calm"...not letting him rough house or play with the other dog who is much younger & doesn't realize when she is playing too roughly. We're continuing a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice. Mixing a small amount of his high protein kibble in with it. We feed him small amounts 3-4 times a day. We give him some boiled chicken livers as a treat after he takes his pills. He is eating and drinking well (the prednisone is at work). His urine output is increased and looks normal in color. Seems a little perkier as he has been barking at things outside that he sees at the window. Is there anything else we should or shouldn't do for him?
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my dog has been lethargic and sick for a few weeks now, got better for a couple days and now back to not eating and no energy to do anything. my vet has tested a urine sample which came back good.. and also took some blood to test and called me back and said his white blood cell count is low and he has a high calcium.. he said with all the results he has and all the symptoms i have told him it looks like it could be bone marrow cancer. I wanted to know what the next step would be to see if it is that cancer.. and i have heard from people that bone cancer is very painful and i dont want my dog to suffer and be in pain and do treatment on him if its not a good chance of him getting better.. he has become more sore and snappy at me when i touch him in the wrong spots.. i really want to do what is best for him but im not sure what that is at this point.
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