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Rare Bone Tumor Removed from Dog's Skull

04 November 2014

US - Something was wrong with Otter. The two-year-old dog had a strange, domed skull that had progressed since he was a puppy. The face appeared normal but his forehead protruded out quite far. His owners had noticed he was uncharacteristically quiet lately. Could it be cancer?

Although Otter’s local veterinarian knew it was unlikely to find cancer in a dog so young, initial X-rays showed that the dome was a large bone tumor. That’s when Otter was referred to the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana and seen by veterinary oncologist Dr. Jacqueline Wypij. Ultimately his surgery was performed by Dr. Laura Selmic, one of a small number of veterinarians who have earned the credential Fellow of Surgical Oncology.

"After taking a look at Otter and his X-rays, we decided to use computed tomography (CT) imaging to better assess the situation," says Dr. Selmic. “We found that the bone tumor was arising from his skull near the frontal sinus, an airspace between the bone that surrounds the brain and the nasal cavity. The tumor was causing some pressure on the brain, but luckily Otter was not having more serious symptoms, such as seizures.”

Otter’s tumor was thought to be a type of cancer called a sarcoma. The most likely type of sarcoma was thought to be a multilobular osteochondrosarcoma, which is a tumor arising from the flat bones of the body (skull, ribs and cheek bones).

"Skull tumors are very rare, especially in young dogs" explains Dr. Selmic. "In cases where a bone tumor forms on an arm or leg, usually we remove the limb. In Otter’s case, we had to plan a more delicate procedure to remove the mass given its proximity to brain and his eyes."

If left untreated, Otter’s tumor would have grown larger. Since the tumor was pressing against the brain, neurological signs such as seizures and even sudden death could have arisen. Dr. Wypij discussed Otter’s options with his owners, who decided to pursue surgical removal given Otter’s young age.

With careful examination of the CT, Dr. Selmic prepared for the surgery. With the rarity of the skull tumor as well as the complexity of the structures in the skull, this surgery had to be planned for Otter’s unique case.

"We needed to take off some of the cheek and jaw bone in order to drill completely around the tumor,” says Dr. Selmic. “After drilling was completed, we were able to lift off the tumor, which exposed the underlying brain. Then, we used the surrounding muscle outer lining as a graft over the brain in order to seal the area." The mass that was removed weighed in at one pound.

Otter woke up well from the surgery, thanks to the expertise of the anesthetic team, and he was walking later that day. With the tumor removed, Otter’s head now appeared very flat behind his eyes since skull was no longer present in that area. He spent a few days in the hospital’s intensive care and went home five days after surgery. He did not need any rehabilitation therapy.

Otter’s owners were very excited to bring him home. They said that he appeared much happier and more like a puppy again than he had been before the surgery.

However, Otter will now need special care to make sure he doesn't experience any trauma to his head. "Because we removed a large part of the skull, Otter's brain only has soft tissue covering it now, leaving him more susceptible to injury," explains Dr. Selmic. His owners were instructed to be careful with him during walks and activities.

"As with many tumors, there is a chance for regrowth of the sarcoma after surgery," says Dr. Selmic. With careful rechecking and monitoring of Otter, it is likely any regrowth will be caught before it causes a problem.

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