As with most types of cancers, intestinal cancer is often present in the dog's body for months or even years before it is properly diagnosed and treated. For many dogs this delay in actually finding out that the dog has cancer eliminates many forms of treatment, leaving the owner and the vet few options to help save the dog's life. Most dogs with intestinal cancer are diagnosed when they are between six and nine years of age, so most are still younger, energetic dogs when they are diagnosed.
Intestinal cancers can occur in any breed of dog, large or small. There are several different types of intestinal cancers and they range from lymphoma to mast cell tumors. Each type of tumor poses its own types of growth patterns as well as the concern of the cancer spreading to other body organs. Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph glands and lymph cells, many which are located throughout the organs, particularly in the intestines.The breeds most commonly affected with lymphoma, also known as lymphosarcoma include Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Rottweilers, Airedales, Basset Hounds, St. Bernards, Cocker Spaniels and Scottish Terriers. The cancerous lymph cells and nodes swell and enlarge, leaving tumors and bulges along the intestines. In some cases the intestines can become blocked due to the tumors. The most common signs of intestinal cancer include vomiting, severe and continual diarrhea, weight loss, lack of energy and lack of appetite. Unfortunately many times these symptoms are missed or just seen as a sign of the dog getting older, until they really start to become sick. In some dogs the intestinal area and abdomen feels swollen and small lumps may be felt through the skin, although they are not on the skin.
Unfortunately the only way to diagnose intestinal cancer is usually through an exploratory type of surgery. This is because the tumors are not easily accessible with a fiberoptic scope unless they are in the lower intestines close to the rectum. Typically the vet will perform blood test to rule out other possible conditions, then also complete x-rays or ultrasound tests to attempt to determine the location of the tumor. The dog will then have the exploratory surgery, at which time the vet will determine if the condition is operable or if it is too widespread to remove. In cases where the intestine is completely blocked emergency surgery will be required to save the dog's life.
Depending on the type of intestinal cancer and the overall health and condition of the dog when the diagnosis is made chemotherapy or radiation may be options that the vet recommends. While cancer treatments, including surgical procedures are expensive, they are often highly successful. Talking honestly with the vet to determine what the quality of life will be for the dog after the treatment or surgery is a difficult but very important discussion to have. In some areas there may be vets or research facilities that specialize in different types of cancer treatments, ask your vet if he or she is aware of any specialists in the area.