Exocrine pancreatic tumors
in Dogs & Cats?
What are exocrine
- The pancreas is a
gland organ in the digestive and endocrine systems. It is both exocrine
(secreting pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes) and endocrine
(producing several important hormones).
- Most pancreatic cancers
are of epithelial origin and usually have metastasized to other organs by
the time of diagnosis.
How common are pancreatic
- Exocrine pancreatic
cancer is very rare in dogs (<0.5% of all cancers) and uncommon in cats.
What are the symptoms pancreatic tumors in cats and dogs?
- The symptoms of
pancreatic cancer tend to be vague and nonspecific, including weight loss,
anorexia, hair loss in cats, vomiting, abdominal distension due to mass effect,
How is the diagnosis made?
- Most blood and biochemical evaluations are
nonspecific, evaluation of pancreatic enzymes are not consistent and most tumors
are not easily felt upon physical examination.
ultrasound can be a useful
diagnostic tool for localization of the pancreatic tumor and evaluation whether
the cancer spread to the liver and regional lymph nodes.
imaging such as CT and MRI have not been fully evaluated for pets with
pancreatic cancer but as they become more available, they may provide valuable
assessment of the animals' condition.
Does cancer cause pain in pets?
- Pain is common in
pets with cancer, with some tumors causing more pain than others. In addition
to pain caused by the actual tumors, pets will also experience pain associated
with cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
- Untreated pain
decreases the pet's quality of life, and prolongs recovery from the illness,
treatment or injury. It is, therefore, essential that veterinary teams that are
taking care of pets with cancer should also play a vital role in educating pet
owners about recognizing and managing pain in their pets.
- The best way to manage
cancer pain in pets is to prevent it, a term referred to as preemptive pain
management. This strategy anticipates pain ahead of time and administers pain
medication before the pet actually experiences pain, thus ensuring the pet's
How important is
nutritional support for pets with cancer?
- Cancer cachexia (a
term referring to progressive severe weight loss) is frequently observed in
pets with cancer. Pets with cancer lose weight partly because of lack of appetite
and partly because of cancer-induced altered metabolism.
- Some of the causes for
decreased appetite are related to the cancer itself (for example, tumors may
physically interfere with food chewing, swallowing, and digestion process) and
some may be related to the side effects of cancer treatment (for example,
some chemotherapy drugs cause nausea and vomiting, and
radiation therapy can cause mouth inflammation).
- Proper nutrition
while undergoing cancer treatment is essential to maintain your pet's strength,
improve survival times, quality of life and maximize response to therapy.
Adequate nutritional support was shown to decrease the duration of hospitalization,
reduce post-surgery complications and enhance the healing process.
- Additionally, pets
with cancer need to be fed diets specifically designed to provide maximum
benefit and nutritional support for the patient..
What are the treatment
options for pancreatic cancer in cats and dogs?
- Most nonislet cell
cancers in the pancreas metastasize to the regional lymph nodes and liver, or
have become invasive at the time of diagnosis.
- If the cancer has
spread, surgery is not typically performed. While surgical removal of the
pancreas has been performed in both humans and dogs, it carries a high risk of
morbidity and mortality without providing any significant cure benefit.
- If bowel
obstruction is inevitable as the tumor grows, gastrointestinal bypass surgery
may be a
short-term option to reduce the severity of the disease.
- Chemotherapy and radiation
have shown limited value for both humans and animals.
What is the prognosis for
cats and dogs with pancreatic cancer?
- Unfortunately, the
prognosis of pets (and humans) diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is very poor
due to the critical location of the disease and the advanced stage typically
seen at diagnosis.
- Regardless of treatment,
one year survival after diagnosis has not been reported.