Canine Oral Melanoma and a Rostral Lateral Maxillectomy

There is a spoiler in the title as to what it is.

Something a little more serious now. You may or may not remember me talking about the oral cancer my dog Buster got. I want to talk a little more about that and the treatment of that cancer. There is so little on the internet about the “Canine Oral Melanoma” only a few story’s of other dogs. I thought it would be right to go through mine and more importantly my dogs experience of it. Cancer is awful but this treatment in it self is not something that is nice, or that can easily done. The “Rostral Lateral Maxillectomy” (what a mouthful) is a very invasive surgery, which is basically taking a big chunk of a jaw out.
But i should really start at the beginning, that always the best place to start.

Like all dog’s my dog buster likes to relax ( he likes to lay on his back. One night while i was laid on the sofa, buster (a 12 year labrador cross) seeing me on the sofa came to lie on his back at foot of the sofa, i assume so that i could stroke him. It was in this position that i saw something red in his my mouth, no it was not his gum’s, it was a much more bloody red. After closer inspection me and my mum could see it was a large lump, it was on the top right side of his mouth. I was shock that no one in my family has seen it before. Like you do with anything you love, you think the worse. After a bit of research that night we found that it could either be, a cancers lump, or a non cancers lump. A visit to the vets was then arranged for the next day, where the vet told it could either be, a cancers lump or a non cancers lump. Whatever the case was, it needed to be taken out. Buster was booked it for surgery the following week, where he would have half of it removed, which then would then examine to find out what it was.

There is a spoiler in the title as to what it is.

One week later he had his operation, a simple affair. It made him groggy but he was fine the next day. We then had just to wait for the results. I believe a week and a half later my mother got a call from the vet’s. Not only was it bad news but it was very bad news. It was a cancer but it was also a melanoma cancer, which as you may or not know is one of the worse cancers he could get. It was fast spreading so if it had not already spread past his mouth, in to his body, it soon would. That was also the reason why we had not spotted the lump before, it had likely not been there for very long. It was not the best prognosis (understatement), but there was a chance that with the “Rostral Lateral Maxillectomy” (I will now call it getting his jaw removed) they may get the cancer out before it spreads. Any dog lover know that you want to give your best friend, a family member even, the best chance to live; so we did it. The vet explained that they would remove a portion of his top jaw, where the lump was.
We needed to get it done as soon as possible to make give as little time as possible for the cancer to spread. A couple of day’s later he was to have it.

I was so worried for him, it is very hard to send someone to such an invasive surgery, it does not help that you can’t explain the situation to him. Feeling like somehow he would hold me responsible and not be my friend any more, but dog are so forgiving. However we had two choices, one: of him dieing within weeks, or giving him a chance to live longer; it was not that hard.

So in he went for his trip to the vets, at this point buster was sick of the sight of the place. And so we sent him off on his own, and gave him to the man who took in to the back and we walked away. He was to be in for two days and one night. On the night of the surgery, the vet called. He said that Buster in himself was OK, he has lost quite a lot of blood. We were also told that in an effort to try and make sure that they get all the cancer out that instead of just a chunk, it would be his whole right top side of his Jaw. That in it self was quite disturbing, i was now scared over how he would look, as well the cancer. That was of a lesser concern to the cancer, but i couldn’t help think of my cute dog and how much he would change.

To help show the change, this is a photo of my dog before the operation.

Another of me and Buster :)

I look a little fat in that last photo. It’s the angle, honest. But back to the whole thing. The next day we went out to collect buster, at first we was called in to the vet. He explained that it would be a shock to see him, his face would be all bloody and shaved, it would not be nice to see. He then said they would be sending the edges of the jaw that they took out, pickle them, and then scan to see if the cancer was at the edges yet. If it was, it would mean that it would have spread past where they cut, if not then maybe they got it all out. He also explained that most of the time with this type of cancer, it will come back in another location; that could be a year though.
He then brought out Buster. It was a big shock, his face looked very different, he looked like he has been in an awful fight. He has a “Buster” collar on, not named after him just the name of those big plastic buckets. He would have to ware this for a week, maybe a little more.

Once we got him home, he was zonked, so tired from the ordeal and the anesthetic. He had to be given water by hand that first day, but after that he managed to drink water out of his bowl, with only the trouble caused by the buster collar. Food wise we had to change his diet but only for a couple of weeks. Instead of his normal diet of a combination of wet food and hard food we just changed to soft meat, those pedigree pouch thing’s. After that him managed fine with his normal diet, he soon adjusted to eating on one side of his mouth.

Not long after we got to remove the buster collar off buster, we got another call from the vet with the results of the pickle test. Good news, no cancer on the edges of the removed jaw. This didn’t mean he would not get cancer again, far from it. It Just meant instead of weeks to live, he had months and hopefully a year or more!!

Now over a month later from the operation, we are having no problems. He drinks and eats fine and is as active as ever. Once the initial shock of his look was out of the way, we soon got used to that. Also once the blood got cleared away, some hair grew back and his mouth heal some more, he looked much better.

A difference, but still cute.

So now we wait. We love our dog as much as before, give him lot’s of attention and make his life as full as possible (ours too, cancer happens to people as well!). And hope when/if we hear he has cancer again it’s not for a good long while. 1 month and counting.
I will of course update this blog if any new complication happen or anything

I hope no dog or any pet owner has to go through this, but i also hope that if they do, that this helped them understand it a little better. Every case will of course be different and i’m only going through my experience and what the vet has told us. If anyone has any question’s don’t hesitate to ask me here and i will answer as soon as possible.

UPDATE: 16/01/2012

I probably should have done the update sooner, but I always find it hard writing anything personal… anyway, the cancer came back. The cancer has repapered (like the vet thought it probably would) above the place where he had part of his jaw taken out. The first sign was a tiny lump, which soon grew. After taken him to the vets (in October, about 6 months after the operation) the only options for us that would not have hampered his life quality further, would be chemotherapy drug Leukeran. But the even the optimistic predictions from the vet would mean, my lovely dog would not be here now. Yet, like the fighter he is, Buster lives still. He still enjoys food, walks, and has a good quality of life. Last week, he went out in the countryside and chased ducks like a dog 10 years younger. But still the time is nearing when his quality of life will fall below, that level, which means we couldn’t allow him any more suffering.
I’d just like to say even though the cancer did come back, I would not change giving my dog the invasive operation back at the end of march. We still have nearly got a year of extra life from him,  and I think that is more than worth it.

I shall leave you with a photo of Buster, before his operation, two Christmas’s ago :D

UPDATE: 26.02.2012
On this Day sadly buster had passed away, but if anyone still has question about the operation and after effects don’t hesitate to ask,

26 thoughts on “Canine Oral Melanoma and a Rostral Lateral Maxillectomy

  1. Pingback: The One Hundredth Blog « Joel Hopkins

  2. brent

    going into my dogs surgery tomorrow… I’m very scared, but hopeful. Your dog is still the same happy pup yes?

    1. Joel Hopkins Post author

      Yes, my dog is still the same and he is very happy. After the first few days he soon became the happy dog he was before.
      Hope everything goes ok for your dog, I’m sure it will.

      If you can keep me informed!

  3. Amanda

    Hi Joel,
    Thank you for writing this. My dog Abby has bone cancer and has a tumor attached to her upper right jaw. We were told by an oncologist in our home state that surgery removing the tumor with margins was not possible. However, Colorado State told us it was so we are taking her out there for the surgery where they will remove part of her upper jaw. We are terrified and I’m constantly second guessing this decision. I worry tremendously about her quality of life after the surgery but it appears your dog returned to normal. I do have a question though…is he able to play ball? Abby lives for playing ball and I want her to be able to do this again….

    1. Joel Hopkins Post author

      Hello Amanda,
      I’m very sorry to hear about Abbie. I of course can only go by what happened with my dog, but after the recovery period my dog has been his old self, he can play ball fine. Good luck with whatever decision you make, if you do decide to have the operation I hope Abbie makes a great recovery.

  4. Donna

    I jsut came acrosss your post and was so thankful. My 12 yr old female chocolate lab is currently in surgery now for rostral maxillectomy. I was so thankful that I caught it when it was still in a small state, thinking that it was a piece of meat between her teeth. She is going thru the more invasive approach of removing more of her front jaw. With my heart feeling heavy, I know in my heart that my husband and I have made the right choice. But Im scared. With being a perfectly healthy animal, she will hopefully live a longer life.

    1. Joel Hopkins Post author

      Very sorry to hear about your dog. I really hope everything goes good with her operation. I felt awful putting my dog through such a operation, but I managed to get much more time with him than I would have had, so it was worth it. Hopefully it will be for you too.
      Best of luck!

  5. Kelli

    I just read your posts and it has helped tremendously in understanding the options for oral melanoma. My dog Roscoe was in for a teeth cleaning 2wks ago and the vet discovered a lump. We had it removed and the tests came back that it was malignant. Roscoe is 11.5 yrs, golden lab/mix that I rescued from a shelter 11yrs ago. I’m torn on what treatment would be best. I’m meeting w/ the vet tonight to discuss the options and prognosis related to each. Thanks for sharing Buster’s story.

    1. Joel Hopkins Post author

      I’m very sorry to here about Roscoe, I really hope for the best possible outcome for you and roscoe.

  6. Jonas Rivera

    First off let me begin by saying I’m sorry for your loss. My Chewey, a 11year old German Shepard mix is not my pet but my first child. This past Sunday as tropical storm Debby was reaching havoc all around me I discovered a large lump (golf ball size) inside his mouth just behind his front lower teeth that looked ruptured as Chewey had blood on his chin. Banfield vet hospital at Petsmart was the only place open. After calling and speaking to the on duty vet we decided he needed to be seen immediately. Dr. Friend was took a Biopsy ran blood work and performed complete body scans which all looked clear we are just awaiting the biopsy results. My wife and I are worried sick (literally migrains with all the works). Chewey has been our boy since we found him in downtown Jacksonville Florida August of 2001 when he was approx. 5 weeks old. He was a sad looking puppy covered in fleas, fecal matter, mange and coxcidia the vet we brought him to did not think he would survive. 2 years later Chewey was a strapping 110 lb rock strong as all he–. One night he caught what was a suspected criminal in our apartment just like a police dog would, I am and alway will be proud of his actions that night. I don’t know what I will decide to do but know that soon I will need to make a choice, Im one of those people who believe in quality of life, I have put my self in his shoes and realize that if it were me needing to possibly have part of my jaw removed I don’t think that I would go through with the surgery, But I love my Chewey and I know its selfish but I don’t think I could cope with losing him or letting go. Thank You for the web page it has helped a lot to hear from someone who has been through it. Just one question, would you have made a different decision knowing the cancer came back. Thanks Again.

    1. Joel Hopkins Post author

      Hi Jonas,
      Sorry to here about your Chewey, I can tell by reading your comment how much he means to you. As for your question, the answer is yes. I can’t say what the quality of life will be for Chewey as all operation can have different outcomes, with more or less of the jaw taken out. But from Buster’s point of view, it didn’t hamper his quality of life nearly as much as we expected. Unlike humans (obviously) he doesn’t need his Jaw to talk, he needs it to eat, drink and play. He could do all those things while missing part of his Jaw. You can tell when a dog is happy, and for much of the time after the operation, Buster looked happy. In the end he didn’t chew his toys or tug things as much as he used to, but that could have been partly due him just getting older. This operation, while invasive gave us 1 more year with Buster and while it was overshadowed by knowing it was only waiting game, I believe it was worth it. But every dog will have it own circumstances you need to take into account, good luck with making this awful choice. Hope this helps.

  7. djinn

    hi, thank you for sharing your story. Our dog was not even 8 years old when we suddenly noticed a tumor on his left upper jaw (we only saw it from outside). It took nearly 3 months until they finally knew that it was a malignant tumor (spindle cell). We also had to make the choice: surgery and radiation (16 times) or palliative care combined with radiation (5 times). As he was healthy organically and no metastases in his lungs,…we decided to do the surgery. We went through all that in March, he recovered very well although it really was a shock to see him. Two and a half weeks later he had 15 days of radiation therapy. The side effects then were to strong, so we didn’t give him the sixteenth. Did you have that as well (sorry for my english…), or did you “just” have the surgery? He now is quite well, but as the surgery was very invasive (he had more bone removed than your dog), his nose is a little aslope and so his left nostril is tinier than his right, and so he has to sneeze quite often. This is fortunately the only sideeffect from this whole procedure at the moment. He loves to play (he can play ball, carry things around, chew on dry meat and little bones as before!), swim, running around, he eats and drinks on his own and without any problems. We really really hope, that the cancer doesn’t come back so quickly. As you wrote – it is on the one hand such a good feeling to have him around still, we enjoy everyday and are so thankful for that. But on the other hand it is waiting game. Every sad look in his eyes, every sneezing or strange behavior makes me feeling anxious that now the moment has come and he is ill “again” (I know that he is not really and absolutely healthy now). What frightens me the most is the time when we have to make the decision to let him go. What was the point for you – how long did you wait, what was your limit? Or did he die on his own?
    thank you and all the best!

    1. Joel Hopkins Post author

      Hello, very sorry to hear about your dog, I really hope for the best for you and your dog. To answer your questions, buster had some chemotherapy in pill from. And we had to make the decision for our dog – when he would die. We waiting till the point when he could no longer drink by himself. At that point we knew it was only a matter of time, and we knew that death by dehydration was not a way we wanted him to go.
      All the best hope your dog has many years of life left in him!

  8. Donna

    This story is so helpful, our dog Tommy had a benign tumour on the bottom of his jaw at the front and we wanted to see if they can manage with having part of the front jaw being removed. We all love him dearly and wondered if it was the right thing to do. He is home now after the surgery yesterday. The part of the jaw removed was just passed his bottom canine teeth, it is a shock to see such a brutal operation but I hope it is worth it.

    Thanks Donna

    1. Joel Hopkins Post author

      Glad it helped Donna, wish all the best for Tommy, I am really hoping that you think the operation was worth it once everything calms down. The one good thing is that the Tommy doesn’t care what he looks like.

  9. Kamye Pemberton

    I am so sorry to hear about Buster by do appreciate you sharing his story. My 13 year old cocker spaniel, Lula Belle just had this same surgery 2 1/2 weeks ago. She has recovered quite quickly but her behaviors have changed. She moves from her bed to the floor (never slept on the floor before) and she sounds as if she is having a hard time breathing through her nose. She has no jaw where her front teeth used to be so her nose kind of droops down but I am thinking once she is fully healed the final location of her healed jaw will lift it back up. She sounds as if she is snoring and sneezes all of the time now. Just wondering if Buster picked up some strange new habits post surgery? Thanks so much! Kamye

    1. Joel Hopkins Post author

      Hi sorry, to hear about your dog, i really hope everything turn out okay. No there was not a strange habit that I can remember, for the first month, he struggled to get comfortable. But it didn’t take long for him to get to his lazy self. Hopefully with a bit of time, I’m sure your dog will hopefully, be back to as normal as possible. Best of luck to you both.

  10. angie

    We just found out yesterday my 6 1/2 year old lab has oral cancer. In two days he is having a quarter of his jaw removed. I would really like to know more about what to expect.

  11. jlm52247

    Posted on 3/2/14: My 10-year-old mini male dachshund had his lower left jaw removed on February 26, 2013 and received tomotherapy radiation as well as the Oncept Melanoma Vaccine. He took about a month after the surgery before he started drinking water on his own out of his bowl (I gave him water with a plastic syringe for a month and added water to his food to keep him hydrated.) Within a month, he was back his normal self, tail wagging, and chasing his ball like crazy.The first few weeks, he was a bit slow and disinterested in things (surgery is traumatic), but that didn’t last for more than a month.

    It’s been a happy year with him since then, but we got the news a week ago that they SUSPECT a new nodule in his gumline could be the return of the melanoma cancer. He is on antibiotics for two weeks to see if that is the reason for the lump (I pray it’s not the return of the cancer), so I pray for good news on that front. In any case, I was pleased that his demeanor and looks did not suffer as much as I had feared.

    Good luck to all facing these difficult decisions with our beloved canine friends. They are Heaven on Earth, that’s for sure.


  12. TJ

    I just went through this today at UC Davis Veterinary Hospital. I took my dog in for a routine dental, and they discovered a small pea-sized black tumor in his upper jaw. They removed it today. When they did the initial biopsy, it was determined a very early stage and a much better prognosis. I.e., there was no mitotic activity whatsoever. I also opted to do the Oncept vaccine. They did a CT scan as well as an ultrasound. The CT scan showed no infiltration of the tumor into the bone, or anywhere else for that matter (lungs, lymph nodes, etc.). They also took a needle biopsy on his very small lymph nodes on his neck (small is good). The ultrasound did show a small splenic mass, but the needle aspirate didn’t indicate cancer. We will deal with that after he heals from his maxillectomy that was performed today. I hate to put him through all this pain, but I feel he will be strong enough to recover quickly. He’s a tough guy. I’m glad I read your blog as it helped me understand from a dog owner’s perspective. Keeping fingers crossed that the surgery, along with the lack of mitotic activity and the vaccine will keep him around for a while.

  13. marcella ford

    Our dog is a 13 year old Scottish Terrier named Scooby Scrapper Do. He has been a sickly baby since we got him at 6 weeks old. He had Red Mange from his mother resulting in monthly shots and medicine to manage the disease which was given to him by his mother. After fighting the disease for 3 years we finally managed to get rid of the Red Mange. Now at 13 years old he has a large tumor on his left side around his hind leg which the vet said it cannot be removed due to his age. In January 2016 we took him to the vet for teeth cleaning and found a large black growth on his upper left jaw. The vet removed it but it came back again. Then we went thru another removal in March 2016. Now May 2016 it is back but now larger and more angry than before. The vet said the only thing they can do is remove his jaw and hope they can get it. Any help would be appreciated.

  14. Kim zirino

    Hi my dog had the same operation few days ago :( I know it’s been years but sorry about your dog. He looked like my lab…. are thier any support groups out there?


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