Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Dogs
Hepatocellular carcinoma describes a malignant tumor of the epithelial tissues of the liver (the tissue that lines the cavities and surfaces of body structures – in this case the liver). This type of tumor is less common than benign liver tumors in dogs, but accounts for more than 50 percent of all types of malignant liver tumors combined. Extrahepatic (outside of the liver) forms occur very rarely in dogs. There are no breed predispositions, but affected dogs are on average older than ten years of age and tend to be male.
The following symptoms are typically absent until the disease reaches an advanced stage:
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Weight loss
- Polydipsia (excessive thirst)
- Hepatomegaly (enlarged liver with uneven size); precedes development of overt clinical signs
- Abdominal hemorrhage
- May be associated with chronic inflammation or hepatotoxicity (chemical-driven liver damage)
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, including a complete blood profile, chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel. A microscopic study of fluid taken from the liver by needle will be done to detect dysplasia (a pre-cancerous change in cells and tissues) and overt malignant features of cancerous cell spread. Occasionally, the only finding of the study is necrotic (dead) cells in the liver. A hepatic biopsy will need to be conducted in order to make a conclusive diagnosis. This will require that your veterinarian surgically remove a sample of liver tissue for laboratory analysis. A needle biopsy is not recommended.
Diagnostic imaging may include abdominal radiography to localize the tumor, and X-ray imaging of the chest to check for metastasis into the lungs.