The formal name for this type of cancer is Transitional Cell Carcinoma, also known as TCC. It’s a cancer of the dog’s urinary tract and can present as tumors in the bladder, urethra, ureters, and prostate gland. Unfortunately, this cancer spreads fast and moves on through the urinary tract and then lymph nodes, lung, liver, and bone.
This cancer is called transitional cell carcinoma because the cells that line the urinary tract are referred to as “transitional epithelial cells.” This means that the cells change shape to account for the fluctuations in the amount of urine that is present at any given time. Just like other cells in the body, transitional cells can start to multiply out of control and become cancerous.
When a dog has bladder cancer, it is rarely curable due to the fact that the tumors in the tract are rarely able to be removed entirely. Chemotherapy is almost always recommended as the next stage of treatment in order to try and wipe out the remaining cancer cells. Dogs with TCC that only have surgery can be expected to live for 3-4 months. If chemotherapy and the other recommended drugs are added to the mix, the median survival time can be as great as one year.
Which Dogs are at Risk for Transitional Cell Carcinoma?
Certain breeds are at a higher risk of developing TCC, including Beagles, Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Scottish Terriers; the last two in this list are at the highest risk. Female dogs are more likely to develop this type of bladder cancer due to the fact that they urinate less frequently than males (due to marking their territory). This is an important difference because it is believed that one of the environmental factors that cause TCC is exposure to insecticides and pesticides. Male dogs urinate more and don’t let these chemicals sit in the bladder as long as say, a female. Obese dogs are also at a higher risk because these chemical causing toxins remained stored in the fat cells.
What are the Symptoms of TCC?
The symptoms of Transitional Cell Carcinoma are similar to that of a bladder infection and may be misdiagnosed as such. Blood in the urine, difficulty urinating, and an increased frequency in urination are all signs of both a UTI and potentially TCC. To make matters even more confusing, sometimes dogs with TCC also have a secondary bladder infection. We all know that a UTI can be painful on its own but tumors in the bladder can also cause a lot of pain and can block the flow of urine. This causes the urine to “back up” into the kidneys and can cause kidney failure; this is a very life threatening situation.
How is it Diagnosed?
There is a test call the Veterinary Bladder Tumor Antigen (VBTA) test that can be done at your vet’s office. If the test is negative, it’s very unlikely that the dog has TCC. If it is positive, however, more tests will need to be ordered. There can be situations where a false-positive occurs if there is blood and/or protein in the urine, which can also happen from at regular UTI. If TCC is suspected, the vet may attempt to get a sterile sample of urine directly from the bladder by inserting a needle into the abdomen. A biopsy/surgery may also need to be performed, as well as imaging tests to determine if there has been any metastasis (spread).
TCC has a high rate or spread and it is not likely to be cured. It can be, however, a treatable cancer with surgery, chemotherapy, and other drug protocols to extend the dog’s life and make them more comfortable.