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Other Names: Bone Cancer

Osteosarcoma: An Overview

Osteosarcoma is cancer of the bone. It is the most common bone tumor present in dogs. This cancer normally affects the dog's limbs. The tumor originates within the bone and destroys it from the inside out. This new tumor bone is fragile and can break easily during normal activities such as running and jumping. This is called a pathologic fracture and can be very painful for the dog. Osteosarcoma is a very aggressive cancer and spreads quickly though the body; normally to the lungs and surrounding bones. By the time most diagnosis are made almost 90% of the cases have already metastasized, or spread, from their original location.

Any dog age can acquire osteosarcoma. Most cases, however, are seen in large and giant breeds. The age of onset seems to be sooner in giant breeds than any other. Some specific breeds prone to developing osteosarcoma are Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Greyhounds, and Flat-Coated Retrievers.

Causes of Osteosarcoma

The specific cause of osteosarcoma is not known. There are factors though, that seem to influence the incidence of it. Growth factors, diet, previous bone damage, chemical carcinogens, foreign bodies, and sex hormones are just a few of these factors. Research is ongoing to find the cause of this cancer.

Symptoms of Osteosarcoma

The most common sign of osteosarcoma is lameness. The lameness may come and go over time or start and continue to get worse instead of better with rest. In addition to lameness you may also see swelling or a mass on the leg which is lame. In cases where the cancer is in the lower jaw difficulty swallowing has been seen. Because these symptoms are so general diagnosing osteosarcoma can be difficult. It is usually only considered after normal treatment for lameness has failed.

Diagnosing Osteosarcoma

Diagnosing osteosarcoma is normally done using radiographs. The radiographs will show a sunburst pattern where the bone is being pushed out or a lack of bone do due parts of the bone being destroyed. If it is not apparent from the x-ray that osteosarcoma is present, a bone biopsy can be done. In a bone biopsy a small piece of the bone tissue is removed and tested. There are however, complications which can arise from this procedure including spreading the cancer or causing a pathologic fracture. Great care is always taken when performing a bone biopsy to ensure that neither occurs.

Treating Osteosarcoma

The goal of treating osteosarcoma is to stop the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body and to relieve the pain caused by it. Pain management can be done by giving the dog oral medication such as Deramaxx or Rimadayl, or by amputation. Amputation of the affected limb will almost always relieve all pain and, unlike humans, dogs adjust very well to an amputated limb. Amputation also helps control the spread of cancer but rarely cures the disease as in most cases the cancer has already metastasized. An alternative to amputation is limb-sparing surgery. This is a process in which the bone tumor is removed but the leg is not. Through bone grafts or bone transport osteogenesis new bone replaces where the tumorous bone which was removed. The best success rates with this procedure are seen when the bone involved is the radius, the bone in the forearm. To help stop the spread of cancer chemotherapy is recommended. The best survival rates are seen when a combination of chemotherapy and amputation are used.

Care for Dogs with Osteosarcoma

When caring for dogs with osteosarcoma it is important to remember that their bones are not as strong as those of a dog without the disease. Care should be taken to limit the dog's activity as even normal actions can cause bones to fracture. If your veterinarian has suggested amputation as treatment for your dog do not be discouraged. Dogs can adapt very well to an amputated limb. It may take the dog a few days to adjust to the change. You can help by keeping floors free of clutter and proving traction to aid the dog when they are rising. Always follow your veterinarian's instructions to give your dog the best chance at recovery.

The AKC Canine Health Foundation and Osteosarcoma

The AKC Canine Health Foundation has raised over $1 million which has gone to research dedicated to osteosarcoma. The research covers many aspects of the disease including genetic causes, and new treatment methods. There are five active grants currently ongoing which are continuing this to look into this. With your help we can continue to fund research projects which will hopefully one day lead to a cure for this disease.

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