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Life Expectancy of Dogs With Spleen Tumors

Dogs With Spleen Tumors

If you are wondering about the life expectancy of dogs with spleen tumors most likely your dog has been diagnosed with a spleen tumor and you are wondering what to expect. Your vet may have already discussed with you some options, but you may be looking for more information. The life expectancy of dogs with spleen tumors varies and is mostly based on several important factors such as the type of spleen tumor that is present and the dog's age. While an exact life expectancy cannot be determined due to many individual factors, by looking at some past studies and research, it is possible for some rough estimations to be drawn.

 Spleen tumors are common in large dogs, particularly Labs, Goldens and German shepherds.

Spleen tumors are common in large dogs, particularly Labs, Goldens and German shepherds.

The Two-Thirds rule

One of the biggest predictors of the life expectancy of dogs with spleen tumors is whether the tumor on the spleen is benign or malignant.

There are several types of malignant tumors of the spleen and these may include hemangiosarcomas, lymphosarcomas, leiomyosarcomas and malignant fibrous histiocytoma.

On the other hand, benign tumors include hematomas, hemangiomas, nodular hyperplasia and splenic cysts.

According to veterinarian Wendy C. Brooks, among dogs, most spleen tumors turn end out being either benign hemangiomas or malignant hemangiosarcomas.

According to the 2/3 rule, 1/3 of spleen masses in dogs turn out being benign (hematomas) while 2/3 are malignant. Out of these latter, 2/3 of the malignant ones are hemangiosarcomas while the remaining encompass an assortment of other types of tumors.

On the other hand, according to another study, 500 spleens that were removed from dogs were analyzed. Out of the 500, 257 ( 51.4 percent) were found to be non-cancerous while 241 out of 500 (48.2 percent) were found to be cancerous and 2 (0.4%) were not classified. This gives roughly dogs an almost a 50/50 chance of having a benign tumor or a malignant one.

Difficult to Differentiate

 Chest x-rays may help provide some insights.

Chest x-rays may help provide some insights.

Both benign hemangiomas and malignant hemangiosarcomas tend to have a lot of features in common: they both tend to arise from the dog's blood vessels, and both being very vascular, have a tendency to rupture and bleed.

Both spleen tumors cause the same symptoms: dogs may develop a swelling in the abdomen due to accumulated blood (hemoabdomen), they become weak, their gums become pale and their body may become cold, some dogs may even collapse, which are all signs pointing to internal bleeding in dogs. 

In several cases, when the bleeding from the dog's rupture spleen stops on its own, most dogs feel better, usually within 12 to 24 hours. While this seems encouraging, the bad news is that the bleed is likely to take place again in the future, and unless the tumor is removed, there are high risks for the bleeding to not stop next time which can cause the dog to bleed to death.

Unfortunately, differentiating a benign spleen tumor from a malignant one will require the spleen to be removed (a procedure known as splenectomy) and biopsied. Basically, the entire spleen should be submitted for evaluation because if sending only a part the pathologist may miss tumor cells which may provide a definitive diagnosis. While an ultrasound and fine needle aspiration of the dog's spleen could help differentiate a malignant tumor from a benign one, usually the definite answer comes from a biopsy which requires removal.

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It may be insightful though, even before considering surgery to remove the spleen, to have a chest x-ray (3 views) done so to look for signs of metastasis(cancer spread) in the lungs and to check with an ultrasound whether the heart is enlarged as a certain percentage dogs with spleen hemangiosarcomas also show a lesion in the right atrium of the heart. However, just because there is lack of visible tumor spread doesn't necessarily mean that the tumor is benign, cautions Dr. Wendy C. Brooks.

"Canine splenic hematoma and hemangiosarcoma can have a similar clinical presentation and gross appearance at the time of surgery. This is because a hematoma is a component of most splenic hemangiosarcomas. However, the prognosis of these two conditions is very different."~Can Vet J. 2016 Aug; 57(8): 842–846.

dog gallbladder removal surgery

Surgery is still needed for benign masses.

Life Expectancy of Dogs with Spleen Tumors (Benign)

The good news for dogs with benign spleen tumors is the fact that, once the spleen is removed, the surgery is curative, as long as there are no complications from massive internal bleeding or surgical complications affecting survival rate.

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In an ideal situation, the mass is found before it even has an opportunity to bleed, therefore lowering potential complications considerably and making the surgery curative.

Dog owners may feel intimidated about their dogs living without their spleen. Fortunately, dogs can lead healthy and happy lives without it. In a sort of way, it's similar to having the appendix removed in humans.

Recovery is quite similar to the recovery following a spay surgery or a c-section. The affected dog typically spends a night or two in the hospital, and once home, activity should be restricted with leash walks for the first initial week.

"You can never, ever, tell hemangiosarcoma by looking at it. Some of the worst, huge, bleeding tumors I have seen on a spleen, that were causing the dog to bleed to death, came back as hemangiomas or hematomas, not hemangiosarcoma, and those dogs had a normal life span,"~Dr. Rebecca, veterinarian

Life Expectancy of Dogs with Spleen Tumors (Malignant)

The tissue sample taken from the liver is checked under a microscope.

A biopsy of the spleen is needed for definite diagnosis.

Spleen hemangiosarcomas are one the most commonly found types of cancers found in old dogs. In the case of an elderly dog with hemangiosarcoma of the spleen, an important decision will need to be made.

Having the dog undergo surgery is in any case not curative as hemangiosarcoma is a type of cancer with a tendency to spread to other organs. In many cases, by the time the dog shows symptoms, it has already spread.

While the spleen can be removed to prevent future bleeding, saving the dog from potentially bleeding to death, after the surgery is over, the prognosis doesn't get much better if the cancer has already spread, most likely to the dog's liver, lungs or the base of the heart.

Surgery is the gold standard treatment plan for spleen hemangiosarcoma as the procedure is also diagnostic (allowing you to know if the tumor is malignant or not). The surgery is known as splenectomy and entails removal of the spleen. This alone can provide survival times roughly between 1 and 3 months.

The prognosis though tends to be somewhat better if surgery is performed before the tumor is allowed to rupture. Survival times though may be shortened if an ultrasound has shown presence of a tumor on the heart, which also makes surgery more risky, explains veterinarian Dr. Rebecca.

When the surgery though is followed by chemotherapy these treatments combined may grant median survival times of approximately 5 to 7 months. However, as mentioned, hemangiosarcoma is a cancer that spreads to other organs, therefore 90 percent of affected dogs are still likely to succumb due to spread of cancer within 1 year.

"A dog with a splenectomy following hemangiosarcoma and no further care of any kind could live 3 months (more than 1.5 “human” years) or longer. With chemo maybe 7, and with diet, supplements, and the rest of the full spectrum plan maybe much longer. Every dog is different."~Dr. Demain Dressler

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A Personal, Yet Difficult Choice

The variances in the life expectancy of dogs with spleen tumors makes making a decision quite difficult. Based on the chances of the tumor being benign or malignant, choosing whether to do surgery or not, can be a difficult decision, especially with elderly dogs. Some dog owners feel that it's worth the effort putting the dog through surgery considering the possibility that the tumor may turn out being benign.

However, if chest x-rays/abdominal ultrasound show signs of cancer spread, then things considerably change. Some owners may still opt for removing the spleen and then having the dog undergo chemotherapy, but many may elect for euthanasia sooner or later, especially for elderly dogs considering the surgical risks (hemorrhage, cardiac arrhythmia and pancreatitis) and pain associated with the surgery.

As seen, the life expectancy of dogs with spleen tumors varies based on several factors. The best decision should be based on your dog's age, overall health, prognosis and your financial situation.

Did you know? According to a study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 15 dogs suffering from hemangiosarcoma that were treated with yunnan baiyou (Imyunity) were reported to have the longest survival times (beyond a year being given no other treatment than this mushroom). There are also several success stories on the Integrative Veterinary Care Journal website.


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  • Ogilvie GK, Powers BE, Mallinckrodt CH, Withrow SJ: Surgery and doxorubicin in dogs with hemangiosarcoma. JVIM 10: 379-384, 1996.
  • Hammer AS, Couto CG, Filppi J, et al.: Efficacy and toxicity of VAC chemotherapy (vincristine, doxorubicin, and cyclophosphamide) in dogs with hemangiosarcoma. JVIM 5: 160-166, 1991.
  • Wood CA, Moore AS, Gliatto JM, et al.: Prognosis for dogs with stage I or II splenic hemangiosarcoma treated by splenectomy alone: 32 cases (1991-1993). JAAHA 34: 417-421, 1998.
  • DVM360: Surgery of the spleen (Proceedings)
  • Pathologic factors affecting postsplenectomy survival in dogs. Spangler WL, Kass PH, J Vet Intern Med. 1997 May-Jun; 11(3)
  • Can Vet J. 2016 Aug; 57(8): 842–846.Outcome and prognostic factors for dogs with a histological diagnosis of splenic hematoma following splenectomy: 35 cases (2001–2013) Steve G. Patten, Sarah E. Boston, and Gabrielle J. Monteith

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