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Lab with tumor. Need some advice

I have a 13 year old male Yellow Labrador Retriever who has suddenly (I think) developed a tumor on him abdomen above his hip. When he walks it bulges out when he puts his left hind leg forward. Anyway, I took him to his regular veterinarian today who did a needle biopsy on the tumor. From this he determined that it is a solid tumor (not a fatty deposit or a fluid filled cyst) and he want to surgically remove it. He said he couldn’t determine from the cells that he extracted whether or not it was benign or malignant. My question is whether or not it is common practice to surgically remove tumors on dogs without knowing exactly what you are dealing with? My dog is already beating the odds (he’ll be 14 in a few months) and if he has a benign tumor that he can live with I’m not sure it would make sense to put him through a surgery. Oh, I guess that it’s worth mentioning that he seems to not be bothered by the tumor (no apparent pain), and he seems like his usual self… great appetite and overall healthy.

Thanks in advance for any insight/advice.

- Steve

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4 comments on “Lab with tumor. Need some advice

  1. Phillip McHugh, DVM, NC on said:

    While it is common practice to remove tumors without first knowing what they are, it is often better to do a real biopsy and know what you’re dealing with.

    Your old guy needs an incisional biopsy.

    Good luck.

    Philip McHugh, DVM
    Park Veterinary Hospital
    Durham, NC 27713

    tel: 919.544.3758
    fax: 919.544.6459

  2. Melinda R. Burgwardt, DVM NY on said:

    From a veterinarian: You ask if it is common practice to surgically remove tumors on dogs without knowing exactly what you are dealing with. Absolutely–in fact it is more common to remove a tumor of unknown identification than a known one. The needle biopsy test is frequently inconclusive and is most useful for identifying fatty tumors, cysts, and mast cell tumors. There are scads of other kinds of tumors that cannot be fully identified by needle biopsy. If needle biopsy identification tells only that it is NOT a fatty tumor or cyst, then that leaves it with a high risk of being something malignant. It is still possible it it benign, but safer to surgically remove it and get a true tissue biopsy for complete identification. Removal alone may be a cure, but some tumors may also spread by metastasis = sending cells through blood or tissue fluid to other parts of the body where they start a new tumor of the same type. Knowing what kind of tumor it is and whether or not the surgeon got a clean margin of normal tissue around it (tumor cells can be present microscopically in tissue near the tumor that looks normal to the eye, so only biopsy can say if all of the tumor was excised locally.) Knowing the kind of tumor also indicates whether or not it is a type likely to metastasize (some tumors don’t do that.)

    Most tumors do not bother the animal unless and until they are advanced, so your dog not being bothered by it does not indicate whether or not it is malignant. However, the fact that it does not bother him could be a factor in your decision whether or not to do surgery. Labs typically live 10-12 years, and yours is already into “bonus time.” No one knows how much bonus time a dog like this will get–he could have a crisis tomorrow or live another 4 years. But we do know he’s not a puppy and doesn’t have a high likelihood of another 8-10 years. Some people do not want to invest the cost of surgery into a dog as old as yours because you could spend a lot and then not get much more time out of him. Others choose not to do surgery because if his remaining time is short, why make him spend part of it recovering from surgery? Others, however, say they want to do everything they can to give him the best chance of having the most remaining time possible to get for him, and if removing the tumor might prevent that from turning into the reason you someday lose him, they’d rather get rid of it before it gets any worse and harder to get rid of (or becomes impossible to get rid of.) No one can predict complications, either, and those can also occur, although most surgeries go well–it is possible you could have the surgery and find that the tumor had already spread and the surgery was not a cure.

    There are no guarantees in anything medical. The important thing is for you to be comfortable with whatever choice you make and understand that there may be both good and bad aspects to the choice you make, but you make your choice with the information you have now and do not know NOW what will come of that choice later. Whichever way you choose, don’t look back later and say, “I should have done the other”–you can only choose according to the information you have now and see what happens when you follow that path.

    Melinda R. Burgwardt, DVM
    Lancaster, NY

  3. N. Lee Kolos, VMD - PA on said:

    Yes, skin masses are often removed without knowing exactly what they are because sometimes that is the easiest, least expensive thing to do………..other than ignoring it with the possibility of it getting larger and larger. Sometimes a fine needle aspirate, as it appears was done on this Lab, does tell you exactly what you are dealing with allowing you to make informed decisions as to the best treatment. But in some cases you don’t get enough info from an aspirate. Because of this dog’s advanced age I can understand why you might not want to just remove the tumor. An alternative would be doing a biopsy – taking a small piece of the lump to be examined by a pathologist. Taking a biopsy would still require anesthesia – but would be a much shorter procedure. In some cases it might even be possible with just sedation and local anesthesia. Then you could decide if you wanted to remove it or not.
    Many of my clients would rather just remove the tumor – if it is not too large or complicated – rather than having to do two procedures. But I understand your concerns and there is certainly more than one way to handle this case. You mentioned that he had no pain and was feeling well. Unfortunately that doesn’t tell us anything about the nature of the tumor. Many cancerous tumors cause no pain or illness until they get huge or metastasize to other organs of the body. One thing I am a little unclear about is the location of the tumor. Is it in the skin or deeper underneath> That would make a difference in how to handle it too.
    This is only a very brief discussion of your problem. It’s impossible to be any more specific without examining the dog and I am by no means trying to contradict what your vet recommended! You’ve done well to have your lab reach this age in good health! Good job!

    N. Lee Kolos, VMD
    Kolbrooks Veterinary Clinic
    Bellefonte, PA
    “Brighten the corner where you are!”

  4. I had a border collie with the same kind of tumor. Actually it was diagnosed as a fatty tumor. My dog was 11 and was overweight. He had had several tumors removed in the past, neck, back, elbows, he went through countless surgeries as for my baby money WAS NO OBJECT.
    His last surgery for a bulging tumor on the side of his body was his last as he died on the operating table. I would give anything I have or my own life if I had not have taken him in that day.
    Best of luck to you and your dog, but I have to say, don’t risk it. If I would have listened to the words from my vet (there’s no gaurantee) I would have had him with me for longer (Rambo was his name).
    Joannie Woods (jwoods@hubank.com)

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