Bone cancer in dogs, also known as canine osteosarcoma, is a cancer mostly known for affecting the bones in a dog's legs, but upper and lower jaw bone cancer in dogs may occasionally show up. Jaw bone cancer in dogs causes symptoms that are often confused with other conditions that can cause similar signs, and therefore jaw bone cancer is often diagnosed through a process of elimination after excluding more common causes out. If your dog has upper or lower bone cancer, there are various treatment options that can prolong life.
Axial Skeleton Bone Cancer
The axial skeleton comprises the bones of the pelvis, spine, rib and skull, and as with other bones in the dog's body, these bones may be affected by cancer, but as mentioned, jaw cancer is less common than appendicular osteosarcoma, cancer affecting the dog's appendages (legs).
When the dog's jaw bones are affected by cancer, it's more commonly seen in slightly older dogs and dogs of small breeds.
Cancer affecting the dog's lower jaw is known as mandibular osteosarcoma, while cancer affecting the dog's upper jaw is known as maxillary osteosarcoma.
Signs of Trouble
Dogs affected by cancer of the jaw generally show signs that are suggestive of some type of mouth pain. Affected dogs may become reluctant to eat and they may lick their lips and chatter their teeth.
Some dogs may yelp in pain if their mouth area is touched. The pain can cause panting and a rapid heart rate.
Swelling of the jaw is not unusual and sometimes teeth may become loose. In severe cases, the jaw may weaken and fracture on its own, what's known as a pathological fracture.
Jaw pain due to bone cancer in dogs can be alleviated by feeding softer foods and using a drug known as piroxicam. Piroxicam for cancer pain is in the same class as rimadyl, previcox and aspirin but it offers the added advantages of being more effective in reducing cancer pain, and most of all, it can also help slow down the progression of the tumor, explains veterinarian Dr. Altman.
Treatment for Dog Jaw Cancer
Dog jaw cancer is more complicated to treat than bone cancer affecting the legs because it's more challenging to achieve complete surgical excision and recurrence is therefore more common. With cancer affecting a dog's leg, you can just amputate the leg, but when it comes to the jaw, you can just remove so much.
While more difficult to eradicate due to surgical challenges, one good thing about jaw cancer is that mandibular and maxillary bone cancer has less aggressive metastatic behavior (a lower tendency to spread) compared to some other forms of bone cancer.
The metastatic rate for bone cancer of the lower jaw (mandible) has been reported to be approximately 30 percent, explains Kim A. Selting, a veterinarian specializing in oncology.
Treatment for jaw bone cancer in dogs involves surgery and radiation therapy. The prognosis for jaw cancer varies depending on several factors such as how advanced the cancer is and the type of treatment chosen. According to a study, 71 percent of dogs that were treated with surgery alone had a one-year survival rate. Radiation without surgery won't likely extend life, but can help with pain control, explains veterinarian Dr. Jeff.
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J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 1996 May-Jun;32(3):257-62.Canine mandibular osteosarcoma: 51 cases (1980-1992).
Straw RC1, Powers BE, Klausner J, Henderson RA, Morrison WB, McCaw DL, Harvey HJ, Jacobs RM, Berg RJ