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Mast Cell Tumors

Lumps and bumps are common issues with our canine companions. As dogs age, depending
on the breed or the individual dog, these suspicious nodules often appear and cause concern..
In general, the softer, rounder lumps are of less concern and are generally lipomas (non-
cancerous fatty tumors) or cysts. In Cockers, Labradors and many other breeds, sebaceous
cysts (blocked oil glands) appear with aging and sometimes these nodules are difficult to
recognize when closed and smooth. Most other lumps require a visit to the vet’s office for
identification.

When nodule types are not obvious or easily identifiable, an FNA or fine-needle aspiration
is done to examine the contents of the lump under the microscope, usually with staining to
determine the types of cells present. These procedures are non-invasive and rarely require any
sedation and cause only very minor discomfort for the patient.

The three most common skin cancers in dogs are mast cell tumors, melanomas and squamous
cell carcinomas. Less frequently found skin tumors are lymphomas and hemangiosarcomas. All
of these types can have varying levels of malignancy or aggressiveness depending on multiple
factors: the degree of differentiation, the mitotic index, and the location of the tumor.

The degree of differentiation refers to the maturity of the tumor cells. The presence of more
defined and mature cancer cells generally means a low-grade tumor of a more benign nature or
activity. A poorly differentiated tumor is usually aggressive and generally more malignant.

The mitotic index refers to how rapidly the cells are dividing. The more rapidly, the more
aggressive and the faster the tumor will grow. The location of a tumor will often predict the
success of surgical removal or the tumor’s effect on the dog’s movement and comfort. Skin
tumors on the feet and lower limbs are more difficult to completely remove since extra skin is
in short supply.

The mast cell tumor is the most common skin cancer in the dog. It occurs infrequently in cats
and even less often in people. The reason this cancer is so problematic in dogs is still unknown.
It is theorized that dogs with allergic conditions and underlying immune-mediated issues are
more prone to these tumors, but this has not been my observation. Most dogs that develop
these tumors have no history of skin problems or allergies. Boxers are once again the breed
most frequently affected with this condition, but any breed of dog or any individual can develop
mast cell cancer.

Mast cell tumors are graded as I, II, and III depending on their potential to spread. This grading
is done after surgical removal and depends on the microscopic findings mentioned previously.
Grade I tumors are well-differentiated, Grade II intermediately-differentiated, and Grade III
poorly-differentiated. Standard Western medical treatment is surgical removal, often followed
with radiation and/or chemotherapy, depending on the grade and how well defined the tumor
margins are following surgery. The greater the margin of healthy cells around the tumor, the
greater the expected results from the surgery and the less likely the tumor will reoccur.

In my practice I treat between twenty to thirty dogs with this tumor condition per year. I have
seen patients with a Grade I MCT that developed many more tumors and patients with Grade
III that never had another tumor. I consider mast cell tumors a systemic condition, regardless
of the grade, and feel the potential for reoccurrence is always there. I treat this condition
aggressively and I don’t recommend reducing the intensity of the homeopathic treatment until
two years pass without the appearance of more mast cell tumors. In fact, most pet families
never stop the remedies and this causes no long term issues.

Many of my patients have normal life spans with the MCT condition. Some get multiple
tumors, some owners choose to have multiple surgeries done, some dogs only get one or two
tumors over their lifespan and others never have another tumor after the first one. The odds of
reoccurrence are very unpredictable for dogs with mast cell tumors but for most patients, they
can lead a normal life, even when more tumors appear.

Mast cell tumors can disappear or fluctuate in size. In my experience, most Western
veterinarians paint a very dire picture for dogs with mast cell tumors and give a very guarded
prognosis.

Below are brief summaries of four cases where the dogs were successfully treated with
homeopathy and enjoyed normal life spans.

1) A 12 year old terrier mix, spayed female, Grade III mast cell removed with local lymph
node involvement. She had three surgeries before her owner contacted me. She lived
more than three years after that, with several tumors appearing over these years but
regressed or didn’t change. Remedies used were Alumina and Lycopodium, then for
last two years Sulphur and Scrophularia nodosa. She died in her sleep from an unknown
cause at 15.

2) An 8 year old neutered male sheepdog mix had three surgeries in different locations.
All were grade II. He was treated homeopathically for over five years and died of

Hemangiosarcoma which appeared more than four years into treatment. Following
splenectomy for the hemangiosarcoma, the homeopathic treatment was modified and
he lived another seven months. Thuja occidentalis and Sulphur, then Lycopodium and
Ceanothus were the remedies used.

3) A six year old spayed Weimaraner female presented with a Grade II tumor which
was removed twice. She was treated seven and one-half years without reoccurrance.
Causticum and Thuja occidentalis, then Thuja and Sepia for the last six years were the
remedies. She died of unknown causes at 14 years of age.

4) A ten year old spayed female Chocolate Labrador presented with a MCT on elbow. The
tumor was very large and couldn’t be surgically removed. She was treated with Thuja
and Calcarea carbonica. The tumor reduced in size but did not completely disappear.
She lived over three years afterward and was euthanized at 13 with degenerative
arthritis.

All four of these dogs followed the alternating remedy protocol that I use and includes
Carcinosin and a special Cell Salt Combo. (see other cancer articles)

There are, of course, exceptions to dogs surviving MCT , as some dogs can be overwhelmed by
a very rapidly growing, aggressive tumor. These tumors can also metastasize to internal organs
where all treatment can fail. Whenever MCT’s are found internally, they often grow rapidly and
survival can range from weeks to months.

Chemotherapy has a minimal effect on mast cell tumors and their potential for spreading. Mast
cell tumors are not sensitive to chemotherapeutic drugs like the tumors of lymphosarcoma,
where one and even two year remissions are possible. Palladia, a new chemotherapeutic drug
for MCT, has not shown much effectiveness either. Radiation fails as a therapy because of the
systemic nature of MCT.

There are many cancer-specific homeopathic remedies that I have found useful for treating
mast cell tumors and they include Thuja occidentalis, Scrophularia nodosa, Sempervivum
tectorium, Arsenicum iodotum, and Carbo animalis among others. Combined with the use
of constitutional remedies, often the polycrest remedies, such as Sulfur, Calcarea carbonica,
Lycopodium, Natrum muriaticum, etc., these mast cell tumors can disappear or remain inactive
for years.

With any medical modality, holistic or otherwise, there are three main pathways for the patient
to respond to therapy. These are cure, palliation, and suppression. Chemical medications used
in Western medicine are generally suppressive, with steroids and chemotherapeutic drugs
having the most suppressive effect.

With holistic modalities such as homeopathy and acupuncture, we strive for a curative
response but often get palliation. Curative responses normally require traveling through all
the disease layers that a patient has accumulated including those inherited weaknesses (called
miasms) to those environmental disease layers caused by poor diets, vaccinations, stressful
lifestyles and the use of suppressive medications, among other influences. While cure is always
the goal in treating dogs with cancer, there is often a lack of time to move through these layers
of imbalance to achieve it.

Palliation is the relieving of symptoms, temporarily slowing or stopping the progression of a
disease state, while hopefully giving the patient a greater sense of well-being. Palliative effects
from homeopathic treatment can happen quickly and if they persist long enough, they can offer
the canine cancer patient quality of life and a normal life span. In the cases I mentioned above,
where a MCT doesn’t return with homeopathic treatment or where the tumor doesn’t grow or
reduce in size, these are likely palliative responses.

With LM potencies and an alternating remedy protocol, interpretation of remedy response
can be more complicated than with single remedy prescribing. I always look for improvement
in energy and well-being in the first week to ten days. If this doesn’t occur and over the
next week to ten days, there are no other positive changes, I will change the remedies. If a
particular remedy has a consistent negative effect or even a neutral effect compared to the
other remedy, I will change that remedy.

I don’t generally see aggravations with LM’s, but if they do occur with a particular remedy and
double diluting the remedy doesn’t resolve the issue, I will change that remedy. Aggravations
are very short with LM potencies lasting at most, 24 hours. The times they occur will be
after the first dose or after the seventh or eighth day of treatment. The latter seems to be a
particular characteristic of LM dilutions.

Dogs Naturally Oct 2012