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Amputation or radiation therapy?
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Member Since:
8 January 2012
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8 January 2012 - 10:02 am
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Hi everyone,

I just took my 13 year old 70 lb German Shepherd, Crystal, to the vet 2 days ago and based on her x-ray the vet said she has osteosarcoma in her front right leg (humerus I believe) but luckily her lungs are clear.  The news has been absolutely devastating especially because I lost my other dog, Star, to hemangiosarcoma a little over a year ago.  We will be seeing an oncologist soon, but since it's the weekend and they're closed, I haven't been able to make an appointment or talk to the oncologist.  I've been going a little crazy thinking of all the different treatment options so I'm glad I found this site.

The regular vet basically presented 3 options but told me that I would need to talk to a specialist before any further decision can be made.  I don't think giving her only pain mediation is the right route for us so I'm grappling with the decision to either amputate or perform radiation therapy.  My concern with amputation is her age and the fact that she has arthritis. Given that she is 13 and has arthritis, do you think she can recover well and function on 3 legs?  Have any of your dogs had pre-existing arthritis before amputation?  How bad was your dog's arthritis and has your dog been able to recover well from the surgery?  Related to this, I'm concerned that her back legs are not strong enough, especially given her breed.  However, 3 weeks ago, she was running around and chasing and playing with extremely energetic puppies so maybe I'm just worrying unnecessarily.

If she is not a good candidate for amputation, have any of you had experience with radiation therapy?  How much pain does it relieve and how long until the pain relief occurs?  Will she be able to walk normally or will she still be limping?  It is my understanding that fracturing her leg will still be a big concern even if she does radiation therapy.  Is this correct?

Then there is the decision of chemo but I figure one step at a time.

I will definitely be asking the oncologist these questions but in the meantime, it's great to have found such a wonderful community. (By the way, are there are recommendations for a vet specialists in the Chicagoland area?)

8 January 2012 - 10:19 am
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Hi Crystal and pack,

Welcome to Tripawds.  Your future posts will not require moderation.

I'm sorry you have found yourself here- and sorry about Star as well.  I know a little how you feel, we are a multi-dog cancer family here too.

You ask some good questions- How bad is her arthritis?  Amputation does put stress on the other legs and back, but so does limping to some extent.  If your vet is giving you amputation as a option do they think she is a good candidate?  Unless the arthritis is really bad the pain from the tumor is much worse.

As far as radiation goes- I know several members here have done it- but I think mostly for other types of cancer.  My knowledge of rad is limited, but I don't think it will relieve pain in the leg if the bone has been damaged by the tumor.  That is a good question for the specialist.  As far as fracture is concerned- I don't think rad will alleviate that for the same reason- if the bone is already damaged it seems it would be more likely to fracture.

My pug had different types of cancer, others battling OSA will give you their experiences.

You have found a really great community here- lots of experience to share, and lots of support available as you head (again) down this stupid cancer path.

Let us know how your appointments go.  We are here to help however we can, whatever decisions you make.


Karen and the pugapalooza

San Diego, CA
Member Since:
29 October 2010
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8 January 2012 - 10:56 am
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Welcome to you and Crystal. We were not in a similar situation, having a very young dog with bone cancer, but I do know radiation is a decent option when amp is not possible for whatever reason. I seem to recall reading that it relieves pain for somewhere in the 60-80% of dogs that try it. I'm not sure if it relieves the risk of fracture. But it could buy you some good quality time with your girl.

We do have older dogs here who have gone through the amp and hopefully those folks will chime in.

I don't want to confuse the issue... but there is one other thing you could consider. There is a Yahoo group called artemisinin_and_cancer that has a lot of info on using the herb artemisinin for cancer fighting. There is a woman in the group who has had really amazing results with it - she has an older great dane that was not a candidate for amp, so she starting giving the dog and the dog is still around (I think it's been over a year now) and her vet was amazed when the xrays after a few months of arte showed the fracture risk was gone. I don't want to give false hope - but, like I said, this woman and her dog (Penny & Jane) have had amazing results, so it's something to look into. Note thought that you cannot do arte and radiation - it's got to be one or the other. Send me a PM if you want more info. I can point you to more info. {Also note that we tried arte - I think it did help slow down Abby's lung mets - but it didn't do "enough"...)

Best of luck with Crystal and please keep us posted!
All the best,
Jackie, Abby's mom

Abby: Aug 1, 2009 – Jan 10, 2012. Our beautiful rescue pup lived LARGE with osteosarcoma for 15 months – half her way-too-short life. I think our "halflistic" approach (mixing traditional meds + supplements) helped her thrive. (PM me for details. I'm happy to help.) She had lung mets for over a year. They took her from us in the end, but they cannot take her spirit! She will live forever in our hearts. She loved the beach and giving kisses and going to In-N-Out for a Flying Dutchman. Tripawds blog, and a more detailed blog here. Please also check out my novel, What the Dog Ate. Now also in paperback! Purchase it at Amazon via Tripawds and help support Tripawds!

Member Since:
1 February 2011
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8 January 2012 - 12:04 pm
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Hi Crystal and pack,

I'm sorry you have found yourself here, but at least here you will find support and answers. We are not here for bone cancer, as so many of our friends, but Rio is an older dog with some arthritis. And I know there are quite a few older pups out there who've managed to heal and retain a good quality of life despite their age and arthritic conditions.

As far as Chicago peeps, I know there are a few... Tatespeeps, for one. And Chilidawg's people, too. They might be able to give you recommendations for specialists in the area. Oh, and our AGGLP, Ginger, too.

Good luck, and know that whatever decisions you make for Crystal will be the best ones. You know her better than anyone, and you have her best interests at heart. So, you can't go wrong.

the Woo

~ ~ Rio ~ ~
Forever in my heart...

April 2000 – January 20, 2012
Diagnosed with Mast Cell Cancer in June 2007. Left rear leg amputated Feb. 8, 2011.
Mets discovered Aug. 31, 2011. Read more of Rio's story here.

Chicago, IL
Member Since:
5 March 2011
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8 January 2012 - 4:32 pm
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I'm so sorry to hear about Crystal, I know it is such a punch in the stomach and there are never any easy answers.

You are right, radiation does not address the risk of pathological fracture.  That was the deciding factor for us, but Tate was only 4 and impossible to keep down.  You are not worrying needlessly, you are being realistic and asking all the right questions - so good for you!

I've only encountered one "regret" post since I've been here but it's relevant to your question: http://tripawds.....gone/  I only offer that as an extra bit of information; only you know your dog and no one can tell you what's right for you and Crystal.  Our local tri Ginger is 11 and she doesn't seem to care at all that she's not active.  Just depends on the dog.

As far as specialists, not sure what you are looking for but a few local Tripawds use the integrative medicine vets at  Cadence goes there, her mom posts as trifod.  Tate's onc was John Hintermeister, not the most personable guy on the planet but very, very competent technically plus he owns a tripawd himself.  He's at
August 16, 2006 to November 28, 2011
TATE ~ Forever in our hearts.

On The Road

Member Since:
24 September 2009
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8 January 2012 - 5:11 pm
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Thanks for joining, sorry to hear about Crystal.

We have heard many people report how radiation helped.

Zoledronate or other bisphosphonates may also be an option, please keep us posted.

Bisphosphonates: When Amputation isn’t an Option

Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene | | |

Member Since:
13 July 2009
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8 January 2012 - 6:02 pm
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Hi Crystal and family

Sorry to hear your news but glad you found this place. Certainly lots of people with elderdogs show up on this site, also reluctant to amputate – or sometimes their vets are reluctant. Your story reminds me of Pez (you can search for his posts). He (or she) was older and arthritic and – if I remember right – the vet did not think amputation was an option. Dogs like that sometimes do radiation and bisphosphonates and have good results. It can strengthen the bone in the bad leg (the bisphosphonates ) and control the tumour growth (the radiation), so it can be a good combination. Timber was a malamute on this site with a OSA tumor in both front legs, so he used radiation and Bisph. and made it about 1 year after the diagnosis (that would be great by most standards with OSA and an amputation). He had a special form of very intensive targeted radiation, available at Colo State Univ and Florida, that was more intense than most with lower risk of hitting non-target areas.

Back to Pez's story. Pez eventually did have an amputation and did fine, as do many of the elderly dogs that show up around here. All in all, I think he ended up with 1-2 yrs post diagnosis of quality time – pretty dawggone good!

Probably a big consideration is how much damage has already occurred to the leg and how much pain Crystal is in. If it is already at the point of fracturing (which can easily happen with OSA), I wonder if radiation is still wise. The main point of amputation really is to alleviate the pain so might be the only option if the bone has fractured – given you said she was running around like crazy 3 weeks ago, I wonder what kind of condition the bone is in. But amputation is not necessarily better at controlling the cancer than the other methods.

Like you, I would also do more than alleviate the pain. It sounds as though Crystal is active enough to handle an amputation, but radiation and bisphosphonates are also good options. Search the archves for older dogs – lots of them around here.

I used artemisinin as have some other people on this site. It won't hurt, but I would not use it as a first line of defence. Dogs with good results are probably more likely to report on those sites, regardless of the reason for the good result, than those with dogs with poor results.

Good luck to you!!

Member Since:
8 January 2012
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9 January 2012 - 11:19 am
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Thank you everyone for your input and support.  Crystal will be seeing a radiation oncologist tomorrow morning so hopefully I will have a better sense of what is best for her tomorrow.  I'm hoping they'll say she's a good candidate for amputation.


This may be a dumb question but is there any way to tell if she will do well on 3 legs?  If she's limping pretty badly now with 4 legs does that mean she won't function well with 3?


Thanks again for your support and I will keep you updated (and post a picture of her soon).

On The Road

Member Since:
24 September 2009
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9 January 2012 - 11:28 am
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There are never dumb questions, so ask anything you want.

The best person to tell if she is a candidate is a veterinarian, preferably an orthopedic vet. Generally if the dog isn't too badly overweight and has a good health history without too much arthritis, most dogs do OK. There are exceptions, and even some dogs who have had bi-lateral hip replacements or arthritis in their hips have done fine. It all depends on the dog, and only a trained vet can really tell.

If she is already limping, she's probably not using that 4th leg anyways, which means she already knows how do to the Tripawd hop. So that's good!

Good luck tomorrow, we can't wait to hear the update.

Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene | | |

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8 January 2012
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9 January 2012 - 11:33 am
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Thanks!  Should I be seeing an orthopedic vet instead of an oncologist then?

On The Road

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24 September 2009
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9 January 2012 - 12:45 pm
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cbyoung said:

...orthopedic vet instead of an oncologist...?

It may be best to consult with both. An orthopedic specialist will be able to prescribe a physical therapy plan while your oncologist is best for determining the best approach for internal medicine. Good luck! Please keep us posted.

Tripawds Founders Jim and Rene | | |

Member Since:
8 January 2012
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9 January 2012 - 12:59 pm
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Yikes!  The clinic I'm going to tomorrow doesn't have an orthopedic specialist... confused

9 January 2012 - 1:38 pm
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Is the clinic you are going to tomorrow is just for the radiation treatment consult?  They may not have an ortho vet or surgeon on their staff, maybe this is the consult if you chose not to amputate.

Someone there or your regular vet should be able to refer you to a surgeon or ortho if you choose the amputation route, or so you can talk to someone about whether Crystal is a good candidate for amputation.

We were fortunate that the hospital we used had oncology and a surgeon on staff.

Let us know how the consult goes tomorrow.


Karen and the pugapalooza

Sebastopol, CA
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11 June 2011
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9 January 2012 - 1:42 pm
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Hi Crystal and family

So sorry you have to deal with this diagnosis, but this Tripawd family is a great place to get support.

Our girl Lylee is a 12 year old, 85 lb mostly German Shepherd Tripawd. We saw a orthopedic surgeon before we saw the oncologist, the oncologist is the Dr who managed her chemo protocol. A general surgeon can also do orthopedic surgery, actually a number of vets will do amputation but if you can afford it, a Board Certified specialist usually has a lot more experience.

Lylee is doing great on 3 legs, actually she doesn't really think she has 3 legs most of the time! Yesterday down the beach she leapt up when we were sitting on the sand and joined in with a group of other doggies to play with her mother worriedly (I'm the over protective mother) saying remember you only have 3 legs. Nope – she sez it really wont stop her when fun is involved 🙂

When she had her surgery 6 months ago, the surgeon commented that her leg was already very atrophied and she had been hardly using it to bear real weight. She was limping on four but in reality only using three legs. Older dogs really do cope very well.

Here is a recent video on her blog beating her Dad at tug o war. Good luck and let us know how it all goes.


joanne & Lylee

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Member Since:
8 January 2012
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9 January 2012 - 2:02 pm
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The clinic I'm going to does have a board-certified surgeons so hopefully we can consult one of them.


Thank you Lylee Girl and others for sharing your stories.  The hope that they provide is truly invaluable.  It's so weird to say but I'm hoping that they say Crystal is a good candidate for amputation and we can remove her leg.

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