Clover is an 8 year-old female lab-pointer mix Dr. Shari Bearrow adopted when she was 12 weeks old. She is a high-energy dog and loves to run and run and run! She goes with her family hiking, skiing and mountain biking. She has never had any chronic health problems.
One day when petting her a 1” soft lump was noticed on her left elbow. Labs and Lab mixes commonly get “fatty” lumps on their bodies as they get older. But luckily having a Veterinarian Mom, she knew “fatty lumps” uncommonly occur on the legs. So why wait, aspirate! A fine needle aspiration involves aspirating cells and placing them on a microscope. The cells were suggestive of a type of cancer called a soft-tissue sarcoma.
This is a cancer from connective tissue that can send out microscopic threads from the primary tumor and require an aggressive surgery to remove. She was signed up with Dr. Karyn to have her mass removed. Dr. Karyn was as aggressive as possible considering the elbow area does not have much extra skin or fat.
The histopathology (analysis of the mass) confirmed the lump was a soft-tissue sarcoma. But unfortunately, the margins of the tumor were not “clean”, meaning there were tumor cells along the surgical border of the tumor. The term for this is “dirty margins”. Due to the behavior of soft-tissue sarcomas, recurrence of the tumor is very likely. The only way to “cure” her of this would be to amputate her leg. Being such an active dog, her family wanted to avoid this option. Dr. Shari consulted with a Veterinary Oncologist at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Radiation therapy for these tumors tend to be very successful. On average, 90% of dogs who underwent radiation treatment after surgery had no tumor recurrence 5 years later. The Bearrow family packed up for the 7 hour drive to Pullman Washington to drop off Clover. She stayed at WSU for 3 and ½ weeks and underwent 18 radiation sessions. Each session involved general anesthesia.
She did fabulous with her treatments but her absence was probably harder on her family instead of her! Dr. Shari drove back out to Pullman to pick her up and she was ready to run! Unfortunately, a side effect of radiation is a “radiation burn”. These are not true burns, but are due to skin damage from the radiation, which can be as painful as a burn.
She tried very hard to lick at the wounds, so she lived in an e-collar 24/7 for 3 weeks. 2-3 times daily her wound was cleaned with a wet cloth and Aquaphor gel was applied to soothe the area. The affected area got worse before it got better.
But eventually after 3 weeks her wound healed. Now 6 months later she is starting to regrow her fur, but it is re-growing gray (which is common after radiation).
She is back to her full activity level and loving life. Not all dogs are lucky enough to receive full cancer treatment. The cost of surgery, radiation and post-op care can cost $3,000 to $4,000! The Bearrow’s are so happy to have a cancer free dog with 4 legs and years of adventure ahead of her.
The only way to tell if a lump is cancerous is to aspirate or biopsy it. Feeling a lump is not a diagnostic test! Fine needles aspiration is a low-cost test that can be done in awake dogs with minimal to no pain and is usually diagnostic. Why wait, aspirate!