Pancreatic Cancer in Dogs

Lili Duda, VMD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
I have a 12-year-old female doberman. She has been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas with lesions in the liver also. She also has a low level heart condition. These problems have been diagnosed through ultrasound only. A biopsy is not recommended. They have given her 1 to 3 months.

Is this an accurate diagnosis through ultrasound only? Any other suggestions?  

Lili Duda, VMD, Editor of the OncoLink Veterinary Oncology Section, responds:

It is impossible to make a definitive diagnosis on ultrasound alone, although ultrasound findings combined with a dog's symptoms can provide a general idea of the diagnosis. If your dog has other signs of illness (weight loss, loss of appetite, lethargy, abnormalities in blood tests, etc.) the diagnosis of cancer becomes more likely.

If your dog is otherwise doing well, and these findings were "incidental" while she was being evaluated for something else, cancer is less likely. The most likely differential for lesions in the pancreas and spleen is "benign nodular hyperplasia" which is a common condition in older dogs that usually has no symptoms. If your dog is otherwise stable and healthy, a biopsy should be possible. Biopsies can be obtained surgically, or in many cases can be done without surgery by using an ultrasound-guided biopsy needle. If your dog is ill, your veterinarian might feel that a biopsy is too risky. Unfortunately, if your dog does have pancreatic cancer, the prognosis is poor—there are no effective treatments for this disease in dogs.