Swift, silent and deadly: Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is an aggressive cancer of the blood vessels that pet parents don’t hear much about until it’s too late. In its deadliest form, it causes the spleen or heart to enlarge and ultimately rupture, causing sudden death by internal bleeding.
This devastating cancer is overrepresented among Golden Retrievers, Boxers, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Portuguese Water Dogs, to name a few. It’s difficult to detect until it’s too late – pale gums and lethargy are signs of internal bleeding; an enlarged spleen that you can feel means the tumors are advanced.
Historically, even with diagnosis and treatment, the long-term prognosis for dogs with hemangiosarcoma has been poor. Average survival times with combined surgery and chemotherapy are approximately 5-7 months.
Today, there’s new hope emerging from long-term research by the Shine On project at the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary School. While the study of 209 Golden Retrievers, Boxers and Portuguese Water Dogs continues through 2024, interim reports have shown that it’s possible to identify hemangiosarcoma BEFORE tumors form. Further, the study has shown promising early results of preventative treatment with a drug called eBAT that kills the cells that generate the tumors.
“This could be a game changer if early indications are proven in the field. I would love to see the day we can screen for hemangiosarcoma, and extend the life and comfort of companion animals with this disease,” said Dr. Laurie Brush, founder of Heaven at Home Pet Hospice. In her practice, she is all too familiar with the terminal nature of the disease, even when the veterinarians of observant pet owners discover it prior to a catastrophic collapse. “There are a lot of things our hospice team can do to relieve the discomfort typical in later phases of the disease.”
In a sample of 50 dogs, eBAT increased six-month survival rate from less than 40% to approximately 70%. The one-year survival rate more than doubled from approximately 15% to 40%. While the research requires confirmation, early detection offers additional opportunities to extend the life – and comfort – of pets.
Integrative veterinarians have reported success with therapeutic use of Turkey Tail mushrooms and other Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) compounds. One well-researched TCM treatment that the Heaven at Home team uses for HSA and other ailments is Yunnan Baiyao.
“Time will tell, but my hope is that this early research will help quell the scourge of HSA,” Dr. Brush said.