Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma) in Dogs

Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Dogs

Hepatocellular carcinoma describes a malignant tumor of the epithelial tissues of the liver (the tissue that lines the cavities and surfaces of body structures – in this case the liver). This type of tumor is less common than benign liver tumors in dogs, but accounts for more than 50 percent of all types of malignant liver tumors combined. Extrahepatic (outside of the liver) forms occur very rarely in dogs. There are no breed predispositions, but affected dogs are on average older than ten years of age and tend to be male.

Symptoms

The following symptoms are typically  absent until the disease reaches an advanced stage:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Weight loss
  • Polydipsia (excessive thirst)
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Hepatomegaly (enlarged liver with uneven size); precedes development of overt clinical signs
  • Abdominal hemorrhage

Causes

  • Unknown
  • May be associated with chronic inflammation or hepatotoxicity (chemical-driven liver damage)
  • Toxins

 

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, including a complete blood profile, chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel. A microscopic study of fluid taken from the liver by needle will be done to detect dysplasia (a pre-cancerous change in cells and tissues) and overt malignant features of cancerous cell spread. Occasionally, the only finding of the study is necrotic (dead) cells in the liver. A hepatic biopsy will need to be conducted in order to make a conclusive diagnosis. This will require that your veterinarian surgically remove a sample of liver tissue for laboratory analysis. A needle biopsy is not recommended.

Diagnostic imaging may include abdominal radiography to localize the tumor, and X-ray imaging of the chest to check for metastasis into the lungs.

needle biopsy

The process in which a needle is inserted into tissue to remove tissue

necrotic

Having to do with dead tissue

palpation

Examination through feeling

radiography

A procedure of imaging internal body structures by exposing film

urinalysis

An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

prognosis

The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance

malignant

Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads

dysplasia

A condition in which growth and development are not up to normal standards

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

hemorrhage

Extreme loss of blood

hepatic

Referring to the liver

lymph nodes

Small structures that filter out the lymph and store lymphocytes

benign

Not being able to cause harm; the opposite of malignant.

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