Liver and Spleen Cancer (Hemangiosarcoma) in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Feb. 17, 2010

Spleen and Liver Hemangiosarcoma in Cats


Hemangiosarcomas are fed by the blood vessels and fill with blood. Because of this, the tumor can rupture, leading to sudden and severe hemorrhage, collapse, and rapid death. Often, owners do not realize their cat is affected until the sudden hemorrhage or collapse.

Hemangiosarcomas of the spleen and liver are highly metastatic and malignant vascular neoplasms (blood vessel tumors) that arise from the endothelial cells, which line the interior surface of blood vessels. It begins as a large mass that develops in the liver or spleen, spreading rapidly through the blood cell routes, most frequently to the liver from the spleen, or to the lungs from the spleen and liver. In some cases, it can also metastasize to the brain or heart. It can also lead to growth of implantation lesions in the omentum, an apron type fold in the abdominal wall.

This type of cancer is relatively rare in cats, as opposed to dogs. Often, just as with dogs, the cancer goes undetected and the cause of death is not known until a necropsy is performed. In cats, hemangiosarcomas were found in 18 cats out of 3,145 necropsies, with the liver the most common site to be affected. The average age of occurrence is ten years, and in cats, the domestic shorthair appears to be more disposed to hemangiosarcomas.  


Symptoms and Types


Symptoms are generally related to the organs involved; that is, a tumor of the spleen will result in impaired spleen function, and a tumor of the liver will result in impaired liver function. Other common symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Lameness
  • Intermittent collapse
  • Muscle incoordination (ataxia)
  • Partial loss of movement (paresis)
  • Seizures
  • Dementia
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Abdominal (peritoneal) fluid
  • Palpable abdominal mass
  • Acute blood loss (often fatal)




Cause is unknown.




You will need to give a thorough history of your cat's health leading up to the onset of symptoms, and as much detail as you can about the symptoms you have observed. The history you provide may give your veterinarian clues as to which organs are being affected. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. Findings can include anemia or a low blood platelet count.


Diagnostic imaging is one of the best methods for viewing the abdominal cavity and making an initial diagnosis. X-rays may reveal one or more abdominal masses, along with possible evidence of abdominal fluid. Thoracic radiography of the chest cavity can detect metastasis into the lungs. Ultrasonography can be used to reveals masses in the spleen and any liver involvement. Echocardiography may be performed in patients with evidence of fluid around the heart and may detect cardiac masses. Your doctor may also be able to use ultrasound to guide a fine needle to the tumor in order to take a tissue and fluid biopsy. An analysis of tissue taken directly from the tumor is the most conclusive method for making a diagnosis.




This type of tumor necessitates inpatient care. Intravenous fluids to correct dehydration and transfusions of fresh whole blood for patients with severe anemia will be part of the initial medical care. Coagulation will also be managed as necessary. Depending on the stage of metastasis, surgical management may also be employed. If possible, the tumor will be removed along with the surrounding tissue or the entire organ, A successful splenectomy may give your cat an additional three months of life. If chemotherapy can be successfully employed along with surgery, survival time may be lengthened but not considerably. Because of the aggressive and malignant nature of this tumor, survival time is generally short.


Living and Management


Your cat's activity will need to be restricted until after initial surgical management period is over. Your veterinarian will advise you on the level of activity you should encourage in your cat. It is important to take care in physical activity and to follow your doctor's instructions, since spontaneous hemorrhage may occur.


After surgery, you should expect your cat to feel sore. Your veterinarian will give you pain medication for your cat to help minimize discomfort, and you will need to set up a place in the house where your cat can rest comfortably and quietly, away from other pets, active children, and busy entryways. Setting the cat litter box and food dishes close by will enable your cat to continue to care for itself normally, without exerting itself unduly. Use pain medications with caution and follow all directions carefully; one of the most preventable accidents with pets is overdose of medication.


Chest and abdominal radiography and abdominal ultrasound are needed every three months after the initial treatment to monitor for recurrence.

Image: JENG_NIAMWHAN via Shutterstock

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