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What is Pancreatic Exocrine Neoplasia?

The pancreas is located close to the liver, stomach, and small intestine. The pancreas has two main functions: an endocrine function and an exocrine function. The exocrine function is used to produce enzymes to aid in digestion. The endocrine function produces hormones that affect other parts of the body.

Pancreatic exocrine neoplasia is when tumors arise from the glands that produce digestive secretions of the pancreas. Generally, these tumors are malignant and are most common in Airedales and Boxers. Pancreatic exocrine neoplasia is an aggressive cancer that will spread to tissues that are nearby and even to the other organs throughout your dog’s body. Most dogs affected with this cancer are middle-aged to senior dogs.

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Symptoms of Pancreatic Exocrine Neoplasia in Dogs

The symptoms of pancreatic exocrine neoplasia are very similar to other benign pancreatic diseases and they will probably come on slowly and not all at once. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian for an appointment.

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Jaundice
  • Anorexia

Causes of Pancreatic Exocrine Neoplasia in Dogs

There are no known causes of pancreatic exocrine neoplasia. Cancer research of all varieties in dogs is on the rise and hopefully the cause will be able to be pinpointed, making it easier to detect and treat. Early detection of the disease is the best chance your dog has of getting effective treatments and living a longer life. 

Keeping accurate medical records on your dog is essential, including any history of vomiting, weight loss and/or abdominal pain. By doing so, your veterinarian will have the best chance of recognizing pancreatic exocrine neoplasia and starting treatments.

Diagnosis of Pancreatic Exocrine Neoplasia in Dogs

Since the symptoms of pancreatic exocrine neoplasia in dogs are very similar to those of other benign pancreatic diseases in dogs, it is important that your veterinarian does a full physical examination and laboratory work-up to determine the cause of your dog’s symptoms. 

Physical Examination

Your veterinarian will need to palpate your dog’s abdomen. They will be feeling for a lump or mass as well as any distension and/or pain. Your dog’s temperature will be taken. Your veterinarian will be looking for any signs of jaundice. A tumor in the pancreas can obstruct the flow of bile from the liver to the small intestine causing the levels of bile in the blood to be high. 

X-rays and Ultrasounds

Your veterinarian will order x-rays to confirm the presence of a tumor within the pancreas. An ultrasound will be able to help detect the specific type of tumor or pancreatic disease that is affecting your dog.

Laboratory Testing

A complete blood count or CBC will be conducted along with other laboratory tests to determine any bile outflow obstructions or dehydration. 

Biopsy

In some instances, a biopsy of any tumors present within the pancreas will be taken. The tissues of the tumor will be put under a microscope to determine the type of tumor, benign or cancerous.

Treatment of Pancreatic Exocrine Neoplasia in Dogs

Once pancreatic exocrine neoplasia has been diagnosed, your veterinarian will discuss treatment plans with you and help you decide the best option for your dog. Most cases of pancreatic exocrine neoplasia have an extremely poor prognosis. Most treatments are ineffective when dealing with this form of cancer and the tumors are unresponsive to chemotherapy drugs. 

In some cases, surgery can be an option. However, generally by the time the diagnosis is made, removing the tumor is very difficult. By this stage, the tumor has more than likely already spread to other organs and the lymph nodes. At that time, most dogs are put to sleep while they are still under general anesthesia since their prognosis is so poor and their quality of life will begin to rapidly decline.

If your dog is able to have a successful surgery to remove the tumor from the pancreas, they may make a full recovery from the surgery. During recovery, your dog will remain hospitalized and be on IV support and have a feeding tube inserted at the time of surgery. Your veterinarian will probably keep the feeding tube in for about a week. 

Post surgical antibiotics will be prescribed to keep any possibility of an infection to a minimum. Be sure to finish all medications prescribed for your dog unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian.

Recovery of Pancreatic Exocrine Neoplasia in Dogs

Most cases of pancreatic exocrine neoplasia in dogs are fatal due to the fact that most cases are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread throughout the other organs. In most cases, dogs are expected to live less than three months following their diagnosis. 

Supportive care can be given to keep your dog comfortable as the disease progresses. Pain management will also be included in their supportive care until the time comes for them to be put down or they pass on their own from the disease.