So my dog went in for his annual dental and they found a pea sized tumor on the back of his tongue. That's bad. Tumors in the mouth are usually aggressive and quickly become incompatible with life. They removed the mass and sent it off for histopathology and identified it as a melanoma, well differentiated so most likely slow growing, and completely excised. That's good. If it was completely removed, there is a much better prognosis. But there was still the possibility that it had already spread to the lymph nodes draining the tongue and/or on to the lungs. That's bad.
So I made an appointment with the oncologist in Austin, who I had on rotation as a fourth year student. I must say, all my veterinary knowledge drains out of my head when it's my own animals, my dog in particular who has been with me for 13 years. And my dog does not do well in clinics- he shakes and sheds and is generally terrified. We did aspirates of the lymph nodes which are small. That's good. And though only a few lymph node cells were found, no melanoma cells were found. That's good. And after three rounds of taking radiographs because the machine was being finicky, it looks like the chest is clear, though they will submit them to the radiologist for confirmation. That's good. There is one other set of lymph nodes, the retropharyngeal, which have to be found with ultrasound, that we're going to aspirate with the radiologist later.
So at this point, it's considered a Stage I melanoma, with no lymph node involvement and no distant metastasis. That is the best possible way to have melanoma. And there is now a vaccine. It is still under investigation, but is on conditional licensure for oncologists. It is a human DNA product that causes the dog's immune system to attack the melanoma cells. So they did the first dose today, with three more to follow at two week intervals. Here is a link with more information: http://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/vet-dept/canine-practice/canine-melanoma-vaccine-gets-conditional-ok.aspx
I know my dog is 13 and I have started preparing myself. He is not going to live forever. But I am not ready yet. And melanoma may get him in the end, or he may go on to die of something completely different. In the meantime, I can appreciate him and enjoy the days that we have had before, and the days we have left.