I gave this post a no-nonsense title in case anyone out there is googling canine nasal tumors, as I have been, and might find their way here.
These are our doggies. The brown one is Leroy, my step-son. The husky is Shiloh, who I've had for about 11 years. Shiloh has cancer. Last I wrote we didn't know for sure. I took her to the internal medicine specialist tuesday morning, and the vet was a young woman about my age, as are my doctor, my dentist, my optometrist, and our regular veterinarian. Yay, young women docs! Anyway, I wasn't sure if I would proceed with any of the expensive diagnostics, like an MRI, but the vet recommended rhinoscopy, the miraculous little camera up the nose. So I left Shiloh there for the day, which is a hard thing to do! I came back for her later and the vet showed me pictures of the mass in her nasal passage. It isn't pretty. There were two main candidates for what kind of tumor it was: lymphoma or carcinoma, with lymphoma being the cancer o' choice in this case. I guess it responds better to treatment, and goes into remission for longer under radiation. But we got the biopsy results today and it's carcinoma. So now we need to decide whether to do radiation treatment.
As I wrote before, I never thought I would consider something like this, especially for an old dog already at the end of her statistical life span. But what can I say? You never know what you'll consider until the choice actually arises. From what I hear and read, dogs react very well to radiation therapy and don't suffer severe side effects. There's no reason why Shiloh shouldn't do well, and the tumor should go into clinical remission for 8 - 18 months. That's a long time for an old dog. Apparently, there has only been a pet radiation oncologist in Portland for 2 years. Before that, we would have been out of luck. So, we will most likely go ahead with that.
I've been fairly blue about the whole thing, but Shiloh is doing fine right now -- though perhaps drooling more than her fair share -- so I'm okay. She's had a long, happy life, so no matter what happens, this is not a tragedy. But if there's a chance she can have a LONGER happy life. . . well, I suppose we'll try that. And thank you for all the good wishes!
Updated March 7, 2007
I notice through my sitemeter that a lot of people are googling canine nasal tumors, and it makes me very sad to think that there are so many dogs out there suffering what Shiloh suffered. I thought I'd better add an addendum here, to say:
- Shiloh did well with the radiation treatments. Though she was 13 years old, the 18 consecutive days of anaesthesia did not overtax her too much and she didn't have any really obvious discomfort. She continued eating throughout (though she was on prednasone to stimulate her appetite) and going for her daily walks. She did sleep a lot, and she wasn't the happiest dog ever, but she did okay.
- the symptoms associated with the tumor did go away -- her difficulty breathing, her sneezing and bloody noses. The radiation seemed effective.
- However, sadly, Shiloh was old for a husky, and this year, age hit her hard. It came on so fast. She started having trouble getting up off the floor -- her hind legs were weakening, and this progressed until we made the very very difficult decision to euthanize her in February. I wrote more about that here. We had the vet do a home visit, which I didn't know until very recently was even an option. It was very peaceful, and now when I look back on photos of Shiloh during her last weeks and days, I know it was time. Sadly, it was past time. I miss her so much, but that's part of having pets: knowing we'll have to say goodbye to them.
- If I had it to do over again, I think I would still do the radiation. Especially if you are someone with a younger dog. I never knew dogs could get old so fast and there's no way I could have contemplated euthanizing Shiloh back in the fall when she was still pretty spry. Even knowing it now, well, I had those extra months with her. And if she was a younger dog, we might have had a year or several years.
I don't know if this will help anyone who is facing the decision that we faced, but I wish you and your dog well. It is a blessing to have the technology available to do something in this situation, but as our vet told us: just because the option exists, you aren't obliged to do it. It is crazy expensive, and as we learned, it might only buy you a few months. It's a very personal decision and a very difficult one. Best wishes to you as you confront it.
[Update October 2007 -- I'm so sad to see how many people really are out there googling canine nasal tumors. I have been very moved by the stories a few of you have shared in the comments section here; I hope your dogs are doing well, as well as may be. We're dealing with severe arthritis now with our other old dog, and that's a rough one too -- but he's still doing pretty good. The last few weeks I've been hearing a number of stories of folks adopting old dogs from the Humane Society and the stories are so sweet and heart-breaking, I would encourage anyone to consider bringing home an oldster -- they're such wonderful pets!]
[Update March 2008 -- Well, we're going through it again. Leroy, our other old dog, was diagnosed with an oral melanoma. Fricking cancer. We were lucky -- he had a tooth absess for the first time in his life, and while removing his teeth the vet discovered the very small mass on the roof of his mouth and was able to remove it. Most oral melanomas are not discovered early, but only when they start to bleed and distort the snout. Still, surgical removal is not enough, in and of itself, especially considering the location of the mass -- since it was on the roof of his mouth they couldn't get good margins. And, oral melanoma is highly metastatic. So, we talked to the same radiation oncologist who treated Shiloh and we learned that the protocol for irradiating melanoma is very different -- even in humans, I guess, melanoma only responds to very high doses of radiation. So, instead of 18 low doses, the treatment for Leroy has been 6 high doses. He's going in for the sixth today.
[Update September 2008 -- Just wanted to update about a couple of things. First, I'm happy to say that five months after radiation, Leroy (the brown dog above) is nearing 15 years and is doing great. He's peppy, eats well, has a great life, so there's a happier radiation story than Shiloh, who didn't live long after her treatment. The other thing I want to say is that we put Leroy on prednasone during his treatments, and we saw a rapid degeneration in him almost at once, a loss of muscle mass, trembling hind legs, having difficulty (for the first time) getting up -- generally, a decline into weakness that was really alarming. We could see his spine; he really changed. With the vet's supervision (though at our insistence) we weaned him off the prednasone, and as soon as he was off, he started to get better, build his muscle back up, and improve in every way. I can't say scientifically that this was because of the prednasone, but here's the thing that really sucks: Shiloh was on prednasone, and these are the same symptoms she suffered that eventually worsened and led to us euthanizing her, her hind legs weakening so much she could barely walk, would collapse when she squatted to pee, that sort of thing. So, I hate to think the prednasone could have been responsible, and that we could have had more good months with her, but I can't help thinking it might be true. The oncology vet never warned us about such severe side effects, so just be aware: in our experience, it is a nasty drug. Use with caution. Wishing all your dogs the best.]