Limb salvage is a surgical procedure used to treat tumors of the bone instead of amputation of the entire limb. This is not a new idea, but only recently has the medical technology made this method possible. The goal of limb salvage is to surgically remove only the diseased bone (and surrounding tissues) while preserving the function of the remaining limb. The tumorous bone is replaced with healthy bone from another part of the dog's body or from a donor. The limb is thus saved so that the dog is able to walk on all four legs although some athletic function is not preserved.
There are several limitations to which tumors we can treat by limb salvage, so a thorough evaluation (work-up) is needed for each individual dog's bone tumor is determined if limb salvage is feasible. The work-up consists of radiographs (X-rays) of the tumor and chest, biopsy, complete blood screen and possibly other tests to better visualize the extent of the tumor.
Limb salvage is performed in conjunction with chemotherapy and, sometimes, radiation therapy. The biopsy will help us determine which type of additional therapy is needed. The chemotherapy is necessary to aid in the destruction of the primary bone tumor prior to its removal as well as for the control of tumor cells which may have spread beyond the involved leg. Following limb salvage surgery, we may suggest that your dog continue to receive chemotherapy to treat tumors cells which may have spread in the body.
The surgery and chemotherapy are very well tolerated by most dogs, but short periods (one to two weeks) of hospitalization will be necessary. After surgery your dog may be in a padded bandage or splint which will need to be checked periodically. Over the next several months, radiographs will need to be taken of the limb and lungs to evaluate the rate at which the bone is healing in the leg and to check the lungs for spread of the tumor.
Although limb salvage and adjunctive therapy can give a dog with bone cancer a chance for a longer and more normal life, it is important to realize that a complete cure is unlikely. It is our expectation that dogs with osteosarcoma treated by limb salvage (involving chemotherapy and radiation) may be free of tumor for about one year. In the past, dogs with osteosarcoma treated by amputation alone survived about four and a half months. It is important that you understand all aspects of the treatment. Please communicate any questions or concerns you have to your veterinarian.