Exocrine Pancreatic Cancer
What are exocrine pancreatic tumors?
The pancreas is a gland organ in the digestive and endocrine systems. It is both exocrine (secreting pancreatic juice
containing digestive enzymes) and endocrine (producing several important hormones). Most pancreatic cancers are of
epithelial origin and  usually have metastasized to other organs by the time of diagnosis.

How common are pancreatic tumors?
Exocrine pancreatic cancer is very rare in dogs (<0.5% of all cancers) and uncommon in cats.

What are the symptoms pancreatic tumors in cats and dogs?
The symptoms of pancreatic cancer tend to be vague and nonspecific, including weight loss, anorexia, hair loss in cats,
vomiting, abdominal distension due to mass effect, depression.

How is the diagnosis made?
Most blood and biochemical evaluations are nonspecific, evaluation of pancreatic enzymes are not consistent and most
tumors are not easily felt upon physical examination. Abdominal ultrasound can be a useful diagnostic tool for localization
of the pancreatic tumor and evaluation whether the cancer spread to the liver and regional lymph nodes. Advanced
imaging such as CT and MRI have not been fully evaluated for pets with pancreatic cancer but as they become more
available, they may provide valuable assessment of the animals' condition.

Does cancer cause pain in pets?
Pain is common in pets with cancer, with some tumors causing more pain than others. In addition to pain caused by the
actual tumors, pets will also experience pain associated with cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy or
chemotherapy. Untreated pain decreases the pet's quality of life, and prolongs recovery from the illness, treatment or
injury. It is, therefore, essential that veterinary teams that are taking care of pets with cancer should also play a vital role in
educating pet owners about recognizing and managing pain in their pets. The best way to manage cancer pain in pets is to
prevent it, a term referred to as preemptive pain management. This strategy anticipates pain ahead of time and
administers pain medication before the pet actually experiences pain, thus ensuring the pet's maximum comfort.

To learn more about which tumors are likely to cause a lot of pain, how to recognize pain in pets with cancer and what
cancer pain management options are available for your pet, please visit the
Cancer Pain Management section.

How important is nutritional support for pets with cancer?
Cancer cachexia (a term referring to progressive severe weight loss) is frequently observed in pets with cancer. Pets with
cancer lose weight partly because of lack of appetite and partly because of cancer-induced altered metabolism. Some of
the causes for decreased appetite are related to the cancer itself (for example, tumors may physically interfere with food
chewing, swallowing, and digestion process) and some may be related to the side effects of cancer treatment (for example,
some chemotherapy drugs cause nausea and vomiting, and radiation therapy can cause mouth inflammation).

Proper nutrition while undergoing cancer treatment is essential to maintain your pet's strength, improve survival times,
quality of life and maximize response to therapy. Adequate nutritional support was shown to decrease the duration of
hospitalization, reduce post-surgery complications and enhance the healing process. Additionally, pets with cancer need to
be fed diets specifically designed to provide maximum benefit and nutritional support for the patient. To learn more, please
visit the
Cancer Nutrition section.

What are the treatment options for pancreatic cancer in cats and dogs?
Most nonislet cell cancers in the pancreas metastasize to the regional lymph nodes and liver, or have become invasive  at
the time of diagnosis. If the cancer has spread, surgery is not typically performed. While surgical removal of the pancreas
has been performed in both humans and dogs, it carries a high risk of morbidity and mortality without providing any
significant cure benefit. If bowel obstruction is inevitable as the tumor grows, gastrointestinal bypass surgery may be a
short-term option to reduce the severity of the disease.  Chemotherapy and radiation have shown limited value for both
humans and animals.  

Where do I find a qualified veterinary oncologist?
To locate a qualified veterinary oncologist worldwide who can discuss with you appropriate cancer treatment plan for your
pet's cancer condition, please visit the "
Locate a veterinary oncologist" section.  

What is the prognosis for cats and dogs with pancreatic cancer?
Unfortunately, the prognosis of pets (and humans) diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is very poor due to the critical
location of the disease and the advanced stage typically seen at diagnosis. Regardless of treatment, one year survival
after diagnosis has not been reported.

Are there any clinical trials for pancreatic cancer in cats and dogs?
There are no clinical trials specifically designed to treat pancreatic cancer but there are several clinical trials available for
cats and dogs with any tumor type for which your pet may qualify. To learn more these trials (which are partially or fully
funded by the institutions), please visit the
Dog Clinical Trials (any tumor type) or Cat Clinical Trials (any tumor type)

To learn more about veterinary clinical trials in general, please visit the
Pet Clinical Trials section.

Additional online resources about pancreatic cancer in pets

  • Withrow Stephen J, and David M. Vail. Small Animal Clinical Oncology. St Louis: Saunders Elsevier, 2007.
  • Morrison Wallace B. Cancer in Dogs and Cats: Medical and Surgical Management. Baltimore: Williams&Wilkins, 1998.
Comprehensive guide to cancer diagnosis and treatment in cats and dogs
© 2007 Pet Cancer Center. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Last updated 2/19/2017