Bone Tumors in Dogs: Benign or Malignant
Bone tumors can be either malignant or benign. Osteosarcoma and
chondrosarcoma are the two most common malignant bone tumors. Osteomas and
osteochondromas are the most common benign types.
Malignant Bone Tumors
Osteosarcoma is by far the most common malignant bone cancer in dogs. This cancer affects dogs of all ages, with a
median age of 8 years. It occurs with equal frequency in males and females.
Giant breeds, such as the Saint Bernard, Newfoundland, Great Dane, and Great
Pyrenees, are 60 times more likely to develop an osteosarcoma than are dogs
weighing less than 25 pounds. Large breeds, such as the Irish Setter and Boxer,
are eight times more likely to develop osteosarcoma. Toy breeds are rarely, if
Osteosarcoma occurs most often in the bones of the front legs, followed, in
order of frequency, by the hind legs, the flat bones of the ribs, and the
mandible. Often the first sign is a limp in a mature dog who has no history of
injury. Usually this receives little attention until
swelling of the leg or a bone mass is observed. Pressure over the tumor causes
pain. Fractures can occur at the tumor site.
X-rays can strongly suggest the disease, but a definitive diagnosis depends
on biopsy of the tumor. Osteosarcoma is an aggressive cancer that quickly
spreads to the lungs.
Chondrosarcoma is the second most common malignant bone tumor in dogs. The
average age of onset is 6 years. This tumor tends to involve the ribs, nasal
bones, and pelvis. It presents as a large, hard, painless swelling in an area
containing cartilage. This tumor also metastasizes to the lungs, but is less
aggressive than osteosarcoma.
Treatment: Malignant tumors such as osteosarcomas and chondrosarcomas should
be treated aggressively. Because these tumors metastasize to the lungs, it is
important to obtain a chest X-ray before recommending surgery. The dog should
have a complete physical examination, including a blood
count and a fine needle aspiration or biopsy of any enlarged lymph
Partial or complete amputation is the only effective treatment for
osteosarcomas of the limbs. Most dogs are able to get around well on three
legs. Although amputation rarely cures the cancer, it does relieve pain and
improves the quality of life. The amputation should be performed at least one
joint above the involved bone. New surgical techniques that preserve the leg
are currently being done at some veterinary referral centers.
Chemotherapy in addition to amputation increases the
survival time for osteosarcoma, but not the cure rate. Radiation therapy may be
considered if the cancer is metastatic or far advanced, but is also not a cure.
Osteosarcoma of the mandible is treated with radiation therapy, to which it is
moderately responsive. Radiation is also used for palliation of pain.
Complete surgical removal of chondrosarcomas affords relief, but should not
be considered curative.
Benign Bone Tumors
Osteomas are raised tumors composed of dense but otherwise normal bone. They
occur about the skull and face.
Osteochondromas, also called multiple cartilaginous exostoses, are bone
tumors that arise in young dogs from areas where cartilage grows prior to
calcification. Osteochondromas may be single or multiple and are found on the
ribs, vertebrae, pelvis, and extremities. There is a hereditary basis to
A bone biopsy should be performed to determine the type of bone tumor,
unless the appearance on X-ray is conclusive.
Treatment: Benign tumors can be removed by local excision. The surgery is
needed when the growth impinges on structures such as nerves and tendons,
producing pain or causing inactivity. Surgical removal may also be indicated
for the sake of appearance.