How Hemangiosarcoma is Diagnosed
Hemangiosarcoma is usually diagnosed using X-rays (radiographs), ultrasonography (ultrasound), computed tomography (CT scan) and tissue biopsies of suspicious masses. Chest X-rays are especially useful to determine whether the cancer has spread to the lungs. Abdominal X-rays and abdominal ultrasound can also reveal spread of the cancer, especially if they show an enlarged liver or spleen. Of course, a complete history and a thorough physical examination are critical parts of the diagnostic process. The abdomen will be palpated (felt) for internal masses. This will be done gently and extremely carefully, to avoid disrupting and potentially rupturing any fragile hemangiosarcoma tumors.
Routine blood work, including a complete blood count and a serum biochemistry profile, may reveal abnormally low levels of circulating red blood cells; this condition is called “anemia.” This can happen if a hemangiosarcoma tumor ruptures, which will cause blood to leak from the organ or tissue affected by the mass and reduce the amount of healthy red blood cells circulating throughout the dog’s body. Blood clotting times are prolonged when internal bleeding occurs. These abnormalities can be assessed by performing blood coagulation profiles.
If hemangiosarcoma is suspected, the attending veterinarian may recommend taking samples of fluid from the dog’s abdomen and/or chest. This can be done fairly easily by inserting a sterile needle into the body cavity and aspirating a sample by pulling back on the plunger of the attached syringe. Free blood in the belly or chest is not normal. However, when a hemangiosarcoma tumor ruptures, blood will flow from the burst blood vessels into body cavities, where it is not supposed to be present. Echocardiography can be used to evaluate the heart, although very small masses may not be able to be seen using this procedure.
The gold standard for diagnosing hemangiosarcoma is surgical biopsy of suspicious tissue masses. If the spleen is enlarged and appears to be involved, it probably should be removed in its entirety and submitted to a laboratory for diagnostic evaluation.
Most hemangiosarcoma tumors are quite large by the time they are discovered. They also usually have already spread to other parts of the dog’s body by the time that they are diagnosed.