Ella’s Cancer Challenge

Calum, Joanne and the boys were all very concerned when a skin lump that their much loved GSP Ella developed turned out to be a mast cell tumour.

As is often the case with these very nasty cancers, the lump came up quite quickly and, to the naked eye, did not appear to be anything to be too concerned about.

Taking a sample from the lump by means of a needle and syringe ( a fine needle aspirate) and then looking at it, once stained, under a microscope showed the typical mast cell picture of small, uniform, basophilic ( dark blue) cytoplasmic granules located intracellularly and extracellulary.

Clayfield Vet - Ella's Cancer Challenge
Mast cell tumors (MCT) are the most common malignant skin tumors in dogs and among the most common tumors overall. MCT most commonly occur as solitary lumps or masses in the skin and occasionally dogs can have multiple MCTs. These tumors can have a very variable appearance—they can resemble fatty (lipomatous) masses or may be reddened (erythematous) and / or ulcerated. MCT may change size quickly, often waxing and waning in size (become larger then smaller). They do this because mast cells contain granules of histamine, heparin and other chemicals that when released into the body can cause swelling, redness, and increased stomach acid production.

The treatment of choice is surgical excision with wide (3 cm) margins.

Clayfield Vet - Ella's Cancer Challenge - Ella being anaethetised
Ella being anaethetised
Clayfield Vet - Ella's Cancer Challenge - Prepped and ready to cut
Prepped and ready to cut
Clayfield Vet - Ella's Cancer Challenge - First incision
First incision
Clayfield Vet - Ella's Cancer Challenge - Tissue to be resected
Tissue to be resected
Clayfield Vet - Ella's Cancer Challenge -  Hopefully all gone
Hopefully all gone
Clayfield Vet - Ella's Cancer Challenge - Sutured up
Sutured up
The tissue was then sent to a laboratory for histopathology and this, unfortunately, confirmed that, although Calum had removed the entire tumour, it is a very aggressive (high grade) cancer with a likelihood of spreading within her body.

Ella then had screening xrays and ultrasonography of her abdomen performed, to try to ascertain if there was, already, any spread of the tumour.

The ultrasound showed some changes to her spleen, but the very talented Dr Vicki Stenner, took some samples via a needle. These samples were again sent to the lab for a specialist pathologist to review them and, thankfully, appear to be just “old dog” spleen changes and not metastases.

So Ella has started on Vinblastin, a form of intravenous chemotherapy. She had her first dose on the 4th of September and will have 8 repeat doses each fortnight as long as she is tolerating it. 24 hours prior to each dose, she has a blood test to check that her cell count is normal. As with humans, the main concern is immunosuppression. Dogs do not lose their hair.

Ella seems to be doing OK. Her appetite might be down a little but she still loves her walks. This was taken on the weekend (12/09) and shows her at her favourite spot on a walk we often do- sitting at Brendan’s cafe on the Goodwill Bridge, waiting for her dog biscuit treat!

We will keep you updated and thank you for all the kind good wishes


Ella’s surgical site is healing well and she has had 3 rounds of chemotherapy.

Clayfield Vet - Ella's Cancer Challenge - El6a
One of the advantages of having veterinary owners is that she can have her blood tests taken in the comfort of her own home!

The vinblastin is administered IV and great care must be taken as it is a cytotoxic substance.

At this stage, her blood tests are all coming back normal and she is showing no ill effects…

And, no, chemo or not, she is NOT allowed to eat pizza!!!!

April 2016

As is so often the case in older dogs, Ella is developing many lumps. The bad news was that one of the lumps was another mast cell cancer. The good news is that Calum fully excised it and it is a much lower grade than her initial one. She also had another abdominal ultrasound with samples being taken from her liver and spleen to be as sure as possible that there is no internal spread.

After an anxious few days of waiting on the cytology results, we got the all clear.

So a few sutures to be had but luckily no more chemo for now. Anyone who has had mast cell cancers diagnosed in their pet needs to be ultra vigilant in checking for new lumps!