Gastric carcinoma can refer to any type of cancer, either a primary cancer or one that has spread from another organ or tissue, to the gastro-intestinal tract. Often these types of cancers are very hard to diagnose unless there is an obvious bone or skin cancer that provides evidence to the vet that this is not a simple digestive disorder. Often the gastric carcinoma is not discovered until it has developed into a significant sized tumor or mass, or has spread to another organ or tissue that has lead to the diagnosis.
Gastric carcinoma usually affects dogs that are in their mid teens to senior years, although with some breeds it can be seen earlier. This form of cancer, especially as a primary cancer site, tends to be relatively uncommon in most breeds, however it is most common in the Scottish Terrier, and the Belgian Shepherd. Occasionally other breeds such as Collies and Chow Chows are diagnosed with gastric carcinoma but this is often in conjunction with intestinal cancer that then spreads to the stomach.
The exact cause of gastric carcinoma is unknown, however many researchers and vets believe that dogs with constant gastric upset and irritations of the gastro-intestinal tract may be more prone to having the cancer diagnosed. There is also some linkage between the presence of a specific type of parasite that can be found in the esophagus, called Spirocerca lupi, and the future development of gastric carcinoma.
Unfortunately what makes gastric cancer so difficult to diagnose is that the symptoms noted are often very slow in developing, may be what some owners feel is just a part of aging, and are also very similar to many other diseases and conditions. The most common signs of gastric carcinoma include a bad dog breath odor from the mouth, possibly excessive salivation and drooling, vomiting, black tarry looking feces and regurgitation of food. Dogs will usually have a very depressed type of behavior and will lose weight rapidly. Owners may note blood in both the saliva and the vomit.
Diagnosis is made by blood cell counts, x-rays and ultrasound in many cases. In cases where the tumors may not be clearly detected exploratory surgery and a biopsy may be the only way to clearly identify the cancer and how widespread it is. In many cases, especially if this is a secondary cancer site treatment options may be very limited.
Treatment for gastric carcinoma depends on how larger the cancer is, where it is located, and at what stage it is discovered. The best option is a surgical removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue if possible. Chemotherapy and radiation can also be used in the early stages. Diet changes can also be included to help prevent any type of irritation both post surgically and even if surgery is not possible. Immunotherapy will be used if either radiation or chemotherapy is recommended and this will help the dog fight off any other infections or diseases that he or she may be exposed too during the treatment.