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Resource Library: Hepatocellular carcinoma, canine

Liver cancer tends to occur in older animals, with an average age of 10 to 12 years. No breed predilections have been established. Whereas many risk factors have been identified for the development of hepatobiliary tumors in humans, no firm cause has been established in small animals. The metastatic (or spread) rate of canine malignant hepatobiliary tumors is moderate to high, depending on type of cells from which they arise, with canine hepatocellular carcinoma typically having the lowest rate (between 22% and 61%).

Occasionally, a dog with hepatocellular carcinoma may present with weakness, ataxia, or seizures, attributable to paraneoplastic hypoglycemia or hepatic encephalopathy. The most common abnormality detected on physical examination is cranial organomegaly or a cranial abdominal mass, palpable in 50% to 75% of dogs.

Surgical resection is the principal treatment method for hepatobiliary tumors. Most solitary (massive) canine hepatocellular carcinomas can be resected with a partial or complete liver lobectomy. The presence of small "satellite" lesions with an otherwise solitary hepatic lesion is not necessarily a contraindication for surgery, as older dogs may have areas of nodular hyperplasia concurrent with a solitary hepatocellular carcinoma. Hemorrhage is the most common surgical complication. Another potential complication of extensive hepatectomy is transient hypoglycemia, which can be managed by the infusion of dextrose-containing intravenous fluids postoperatively. The liver has a tremendous capacity for regeneration, with a return to normal function documented after removal of up to 80% of the liver tissue. Existing evidence suggests a good prognosis following surgical excision of solitary canine hepatocellular carcinoma with median survival times reported to be 3-4 years.

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