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Mast Cell Tumors in Dogs – Symptoms and Treatments

What is a mast cell tumor (mastocytoma)? A solitary collection of mast cells in the skin. Mast cells are made in the bone marrow and are part of the body's immune system. It is a type of skin cancer that affects dogs but can spread to their bone marrow, internal organs, and skin. According to the Washington State University, 1 in every 5 cases of skin cancer in dogs is attributed to mast cell tumors. But what exactly are mast cells?

Mast cells are types of cells that are mainly found in connective tissues near external surfaces such as lungs, subcutaneous tissue, and the skin. They have a variety of functions including defending the body against parasites, formation of new vessels, tissue repair, and reaction to allergens.

Risk Factors Among Dogs

Although mast cells tumors are rare in humans and relatively uncommon in felines, they are very common in dogs. They can develop in any breed or sex of a dog. However, some dogs are more susceptible to developing the cancer than others. Below are a few risk factors to note:

  • Breed: Boston Terriers, Boxers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Pitbull Terriers, Weimaraners, Bulldogs, and Pugs appear to be more susceptible to mastocytoma.
  • Age: Mast cell tumors mostly develop in older dogs (approximately 8 years).

NB: The exact causes of mast cell tumors are not clear. It might be a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors.

Does my Dog have a Mast Cell Tumor? – Signs and Symptoms

Mast cell tumors are relatively hard to identify – their appearance varies greatly, and they can arise in different regions of the body. For this reason, it highly advisable to seek medical diagnosis if you notice any of the symptoms highlighted below:

  • The onset of fluid build-up and redness on the skin of your canine friend.

    *Mast cells release a large amount of histamine causing itching and discomfort

  • Unusual bump, ulcerated lesion, or lump that may resemble a wart or insect bite (NB: The tumors often fluctuate in size).
  • Mast cell tumors appear in any location on the skin, but they are somewhat common on the trunk and paws.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes near the tumor
  • Inflammation around the tumor due to increased histamines
  • Enlarged liver and spleen (identified by your vet)
  • Diarrhea, loss of appetite, and vomiting.

Diagnosis of Mast Cell Tumors

Are you worried that your dog might be affected by mast cell tumors? Does your canine friend display some of the symptoms above? If you visit a veterinary clinic, the vet will often use one or more of these diagnostic techniques:

  • Fine Needle Aspirates: Skin lumps are sampled directly using a small needle (aspiration) and observed under a microscope. This technique determines whether there is an unusual amount of mast cells in the tumor.
  • Surgical/Tissue Biopsy: A biopsy confirms the presence of mast cell tumors – definitive diagnosis. This is used to determine the stage of the condition and the grade of the mast cells.
  • The medical practitioner may also recommend a CT scan, abdominal ultrasound, blood and urine samples, or chest radiographs to identify concurrent conditions, exact location, and the spread of cancer.

Available Treatment Options for your Dog

A diagnosis of mast cell tumors on your canine best friend is definitely scary! But the good news is that mastocytoma is a treatable condition. Your vet may prescribe palliative therapies such as pain killers and antihistamines to slow the progression of the cancer and reduce discomfort. Why so? Since mast cells have allergenic functions, manipulation of the tumor may stimulate the release of histamines into the bloodstream. However, it is important to note that the success of conventional treatments depends on whether the cancer has spread, and the grade of tumors – higher grade tumors are harder to treat.

Regarding getting rid of the tumors, surgery is one of the most common procedures. In a localized case a surgeon will operate to remove the tumor. He will estimate the amount of tissue to remove around the tumor through visual and tactile methods. It is also common for the surgeon to receive a recommendation on the amount of tissue to remove in the histologist report. When the surgeon feels he has removed it all a sample of the "clean" tissue will be sent in for study to verify no presence of cancer cells.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, mast cells tumors can be effectively removed through surgery, if it has not spread to other regions. If the tumor is at an advanced stage or has spread to other tissue, your vet may recommend radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or additional surgery.

Are there alternative/complementary remedies to improve your dog’s quality of life? Some sources support the idea of using whole plant hemp CBD to support conventional treatments, manage symptoms, and generally improve your dog’s quality of life. In addition products such as Paws Effect 100% Organic CBD biscuits also contain 50mg of Turkey Tail Mushroom Powder, which has been shown to boost the immune system in Dogs extending  life in some cases.
In particular, different scientific studies claim that CBD helps with nausea, appetite, improves sleep, boost the immune system, manage pain and inflammation, and even provide anti-tumor effects.

What Next? Prognosis of Mast Cell Tumors

As with other types of cancerous growths, there is a higher chance of successful treatment when the disease is detected early. The prognosis of mast cell tumors depends on the particulars of a case – i.e., the grade of the tumor, location of the lesion, size, and whether or not the tumor has metastasized. Below are some of the prognoses you should expect from the different treatments:

  • Low-grade and localized mast cell tumors – Can be removed entirely through surgical procedures.
  • Spread to local lymph nodes – Treatment with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can achieve a good prognosis with a survival time of more than 5 years.
  • Widely metastasized and high-grade mast cell tumors – Combination of different treatment techniques. The survival time can be as low as a few months.

Final Thoughts

Mast cell tumors are relatively common in dogs. Therefore, it is crucial for pet owners to learn how to correctly identify the tumors, predict behavior, and to provide proper care for their canine friends. Despite the concern associated with a diagnosis of mast cell tumors, there are effective treatments – thanks to advanced veterinary oncology. With early detection, accurate diagnosis, and proper care, you can take care of your dog and enhance his/ her quality of life



Image by Chiemsee2016 from Pixabay 
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