You may not have thought about it, but dogs can get breast cancer, too. It is actually referred to as “mammary cancer” by veterinarians, and it is not uncommon in female dogs that have not been spayed. If breast cancer in dogs is caught in its early stages, there is a relatively high cure rate. For this reason, “breast” or mammary examinations should be a critical part of your female dog’s health regimen.
Dogs at High Risk for Breast Cancer
The risk for breast cancer in dogs increases with each heat cycle. The hormone processes that take place during each heat stimulate the mammary glands, and actually increase the risk of mammary cancer. For this reason, it is important to get your female dog spayed before her first heat cycle. Breast cancer in dogs rarely occurs in dogs that have been spayed prior to their first cycle.
Preventing Breast Cancer in Dogs
Spaying your dog early is the best defense against mammary cancer, but in lieu of that, regular mammary examinations should be performed. Visually inspect the breast area closely, and palpate the area around each nipple. Tumors will feel hard and will be static, meaning they will not move easily under the skin. These tumors tend to grow quickly however, and can be noticeably larger in just one month’s time. The more often you examine your dog, the more likely you’ll be able to identify any changes that occur. You should see your vet at the first sign of an abnormality.
Diagnosing Breast Cancer in Dogs
If mammary cancer is suspected, your vet will probably want to run additional tests to determine the nature of the mass, and whether or not it is malignant. About one-half of all mammary tumors in dogs are found to be malignant. Diagnostic tests might include blood tests, x-rays, ultrasounds or biopsies.
Treating for Breast Cancer in Dogs
If your dog has been diagnosed with mammary cancer and is young and healthy enough, surgery may be the best treatment regimen. If performed early enough, surgery has a 50 percent cure rate. Surgical removal of cancerous mammary tumors in dogs is less complicated and easier to recover from than in humans, so as long as they are detected early, your dog will have a good prognosis for recovery. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are not used widely for breast cancer in dogs, so surgery is often the best option.
Although breast cancer in dogs is a serious health threat, it is one of the most easily preventable cancers in dogs. Dogs that are spayed prior to their first heat only have a 0.05 percent chance of developing the disease, but that probability increases with each heat. It is therefore imperative that you spay your dog as early as possible. This is the best prevention available.