Canine histiocytic malignancies (HM) are aggressive tumors that occur with particularly high frequency in certain breeds including Bernese mountain dogs and flat-coated retrievers. Robust diagnosis of HM commonly utilizes immunohistochemical stains that are broadly ineffective on formalin-fixed tissues; thus the diagnosis is often one of exclusion. Clinical outcomes are generally poor, with frequent metastasis and therapeutic failure lowering overall survival at time of diagnosis to an average of less than two months in the majority of published work. The limited understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying HM has hindered the development of more effective diagnostic modalities and the identification of therapeutic targets. A potential avenue exists for advancing clinical management of canine cancers through extrapolation from a close counterpart in human medicine. Historically, HM have been compared to the rare and understudied subset of human cancers involving the dendritic lineage, such as dendritic cell sarcoma or Langerhans cell sarcoma. Recent data have now thrown into question the cellular origin of HM, suggesting that the disease may originate from the macrophage lineage. This review summarizes existing knowledge of HM from the clinical, histologic and molecular perspectives, and highlights avenues for future research that may aid the development of novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. In turn, a more advanced appreciation of the mechanisms underlying HM should clarify their cellular origin and identify appropriate opportunities for synergistic extrapolation between related canine and human cancers.
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