Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost
Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma)?

Primary liver cancer accounts for less than 1.5% of all tumors in dogs. The most common type of cancer to originate in the liver is hepatocellular carcinoma. This cancer is believed to form on stem cells in the liver and it can grow to be quite large. It is responsible for about 50% of the liver tumors found in dogs. In some cases, the tumor can be identified as a palpable mass in a dog’s stomach. Often dogs present the typical symptoms of liver disease, but some tumors can be non-symptomatic for quite some time. Eventually, the tumor will cause serious abdominal hemorrhage. This type of cancer is slow growing; however, left untreated, it will cause cell death and cirrhosis of the liver and eventually lead to end-stage liver disease. It can metastasize to other areas of the body, most commonly to other organs in the abdomen, but this is less likely than with more aggressive forms of cancer. Surgery is possible with many tumors, and dogs have a good chance of recovery as long as the entire mass is removed. More diffuse tumors, including several lobes or even the entire liver, are much harder to treat. Cancers on the left lobe usually have a better chance of being successfully removed. This type of cancer is more common in older dogs, around 10-12 years of age.

Cancers often spread to the liver with metastasis, but primary liver cancer is rare in dogs. The most common tumor to originate in the liver is hepatocellular carcinoma. This is a slowly developing cancer. Many cases are treatable with surgery, but it will depend on the type and location of the tumor.

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Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $15,000

Average Cost

$8,500

Symptoms of Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

Hepatocellular carcinoma is much easier to treat in the early stages. Take your dog to see a veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms.

  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy 
  • Abdominal distention
  • Mass can be felt in the stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Jaundice
  • Ascites (fluid in the abdomen)
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Ulcers
  • Hepatic encephalopathy (disorientation, circling, aggression, seizures coma)

Types

Hepatocellular carcinomas are defined by the type of tumor they form.

  • Massive – the cancer forms as a single, discrete mass; as the name implies, it can grow to be very large; sometimes there is one large mass and several smaller ones in a different part of the liver; these tumors are easier to remove since they form a distinct growth
  • Nodular – the cancer forms several nodes or smaller masses;  nodes may be located on one or more lobes of the liver; these tumors still form a discrete mass, but they are more likely to metastasize and spread than massive tumors
  • Diffuse – the cancer may involve the most of the liver; cancerous cells are not well differentiated from healthy cells, so they can be difficult to remove
  • Hepatocellular adenoma – this is a non-cancerous tumor that is the benign form of hepatocellular carcinoma; large tumors can still be a problem if they rupture and bleed, or if they put pressure on other abdominal organs
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Causes of Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

It’s not known what causes liver cancer to form. It is less common in dogs under 9 years old, so age is a factor. Some studies have noted a higher rate of incidence in Miniature Schnauzers, and others have found more tendency to liver cancer among male dogs, but this hasn’t been widely confirmed. 

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Diagnosis of Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

The veterinarian will examine your dog physically. If a mass is felt on the liver, this will be a good indication of a hepatocellular tumor. If your dog has symptoms of liver dysfunction, cancer may be suspected as the cause, based on age and the elimination of other factors. Blood and urine tests will indicate the degree of liver failure that is present and help to determine whether your dog is healthy enough for surgery. Some bloodwork may require fasting. Abnormal liver enzymes may suggest the presence of a tumor or even show the type of cancer, but bloodwork isn’t often conclusive. 

A definitive diagnosis will be based on magnetic imaging. Massive tumors are visible on an abdominal X-ray. Ultrasound can identify smaller more diffuse tumors and help to show metastasis. Ultrasound guided biopsies and aspirates may be needed to determine if the tissue is cancerous or benign. The veterinarian may need to evaluate the coagulation level in your dog’s blood before these tests, since tumors may hemorrhage during biopsy. Additional x-rays, ultrasound, or other magnetic imaging tests could be ordered to check for metastasis in other parts of the body.

The veterinarian will want to know your dog’s age and medical history, including any prior problems with the liver. A detailed description of the symptoms will also be helpful.

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Treatment of Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

Treatment will depend on a veterinarian’s diagnoses. Surgery is the best option, but in some cases it may not be possible. Nodular or diffuse tumors can be difficult to operate on, and tumors with a high degree of hemorrhage may pose too big a risk. If your dog has symptoms of acute liver failure, he will not be healthy enough for surgery unless this condition can be stabilized.

The veterinarian will discuss the amount of risk involved with surgery. Your dog may need to stay in a veterinary hospital for a number of days after surgery for monitoring. The liver can regrow itself, so dogs can recover even if a large amount of the liver has to be removed, but the veterinarian will need to ensure the liver is functioning adequately before sending your dog home. Biopsies will be taken during surgery to check for metastasis in other parts of the liver. It’s likely the veterinarian will put your dog on a low protein, low sodium diet to avoid unnecessary stress on the liver.

Chemotherapy may be ordered for tumors that are inoperable or if metastasis was noted at the time of surgery. Chemotherapy drugs are administered by injection for approximately 3 or 4 weeks, or as long as the veterinarian thinks necessary. Each chemotherapy appointment will last at least 1 ½ hours for adequate testing and administration. Dogs don’t usually experience hair loss, but they can have quite severe gastrointestinal side effects.

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Recovery of Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

Massive or benign tumors that are fully removed with surgery have a good prognosis. Many dogs don’t have recurrence and may live for a number of years after the operation. The veterinarian may recommend a long-term diet change. 

Dogs with inoperable tumors have a low chance of recovery. Chemotherapy can sometimes slow the progression of the cancer, but only for a matter of months. Symptoms may progress gradually since this is not an aggressive cancer, but they will eventually become severe. The chance of your dog’s recovery will be evaluated by a veterinarian upon diagnosis.

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Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $15,000

Average Cost

$8,500

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Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Porridge

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Jack Russell

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8 Years

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0 found helpful

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0 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Lack Of Appetite Tho' Wants To Eat

I have an 8 year old neutered male Jack Russell who has just been diagnosed with quite a big tumor on his spleen and several small tumors on his liver. I am devastated as my vet has given him 2-3 months to live. Is there nothing that can be given to shrink the tumors? Are there any natural products I give to help him? He has been prescribed prednisone at present. Would a change of diet help? I know in humans cancer can't thrive in a alkaline environment - is this true in animals? Please help me - my family are so upset about this.

Aug. 17, 2018

Porridge's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

I'm sorry about that news, that is very sad. Unfortunately, if the tumors that Porridge has are that large, the only treatment would be surgery to remove his spleen. Depending on the type of tumors, the smaller masses on his liver may continue to grow as well. I don't know any details about his case, but if you need to know any options, a second opinion never hurts to see if there is any other possibility.

Aug. 17, 2018

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missiz

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Border Terrier

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11 Years

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6 found helpful

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6 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Sleepy Lethargic

hi 2 week ago my 11 and a half year old border terrier missiz started to act strange , staring into space couldnt settle ,i took her the vets she had a ultrasound ans they found nodules on her liver , they gave her 2 shots of predisnolone 5 days apart . now shes on steroids 5mg 1 a day shes lethargic and i think her stomach is swelling , tonight she was panting so ive put the fan on her shes now settled but shes drinking lots and eating very well , i always check her gums ive bought her a pram so as not to let her exhaust herself and she can still come on walks , i was worried about why she was panting as none of my other dogs was , and her breathing is a lot faster than my other dogs , i am so sad i watched her come into the world and ill be there when she leaves hartbroken

July 18, 2018

missiz's Owner


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6 Recommendations

Panting may be a response to pain or a response to fluid accumulating in the chest or abdomen, you should return to your Veterinarian for an examination if Missiz is panting more than usual to determine the specific cause and to manage it if possible. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 19, 2018

thank u so much i have had her out today and she has been ok , i will be taking her to the vets for another check up thank u so much for ur response

July 19, 2018

missiz's Owner

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Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $15,000

Average Cost

$8,500

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