Stages of Pancreatic Cancer in Dogs

The stages of pancreatic cancer in dogs progress very quickly, and usually symptoms of pancreatic cancer don't develop until the cancer is in its later stages. Read on to learn more about the stages of pancreatic cancer, as well as its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, in dogs.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer in Dogs

Canine pancreatic cancer often doesn't cause symptoms until the disease reaches its later stages. Primary pancreatic cancer, which originates in the pancreas, is often far advanced at the time of diagnosis. Secondary pancreatic cancer, which is cancer that has spread to the pancreas from other organs, is far advanced by its very definition, since most cancers don't spread until they have reached their later stages.

Pancreatic cancer develops as abnormal pancreatic cells multiply rapidly in the pancreas. These cells don't die, but continue growing to form tumors. As the stages of pancreatic cancer progress in dogs, tissue in the pancreas begins to die. In the later stages of pancreatic cancer, tumors can spread to other organs, causing tissue death and organ dysfunction throughout the body.

As the pancreas begins to lose function, it fails to produce adequate amounts of insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar. As a result, dogs may experience extreme low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, and may suddenly lose consciousness. Other symptoms can include:

  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Neurological problems, since the brain can't function without adequate blood glucose to fuel it
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, eyes and mucous membranes)

In the later stages of pancreatic cancer, dogs may experience a range of other symptoms, depending on what part of their body is affected by the spread of cancer. Pancreatic cancer in dogs can cause the pancreas to function intermittently, so that sometimes the symptoms may seem to have resolved, only to return again later.

Diagnosing Canine Pancreatic Cancer

Your vet will use blood tests to check for pancreatic cancer. He'll be looking for low levels of blood sugar, combined with anemia, increased white blood cells counts, and increased levels of bilirubin in the blood. X-rays and ultrasounds can help your vet confirm the presence of tumors and evaluate the extent of their spread to other organs. Biopsy samples will often be necessary to confirm that the tumors are cancerous, since benign pancreatic tumors are also fairly common.

Treating Canine Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat, especially because the cancer often reaches its later stages before symptoms appear and a diagnosis is made. Most vets use surgical tumor removal as a standard treatment, but these tumors often grow back, since it's difficult to remove all of the cancerous tissue from the pancreas. Pancreatic cancer also spreads so quickly that other organs are usually affected by the time a diagnosis is made.

Your vet may recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy to help slow or stop the growth of pancreatic cancer, or to keep the cancer from returning after surgery. These treatments have not been shown to be terribly efficient in treating canine pancreatic cancer. The prognosis for canine pancreatic cancer is very poor.