"Cat Cancer understanding and treatment has seen many advances in the last several years. It tends to be diagnosed in cats between 10 and 15 years old. Learn about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for this disease."
Cancer in cats is often in the form of a tumor. Tumors are any sort of lump or bump (called neoplasms). Tumors that grow are called neoplasms. There are two types of tumors:
Benign - Tumors that grow slowly and don't spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor is treated with surgery. These types of tumors grow slowly, don't spread to other areas and are cured through surgical removal.
Malignant - These tumors are the same as cancer and are also called carcinomas, sarcomas and lymphomas depending on where the cancer is on the body. As the cancer spreads from one part of the body to another, it can enter the lymph nodes or circulatory system. The spread is called metastasizing.
No one knows what causes cancer in cats although many believe it has something to do with genetic predisposition. A number of risk factors have been identified including stress, pollution, colorings and preservatives and an inadequate diet.
Cats have a higher incidence of cancer than dogs and other domestic animals. Cat Cancer tends to be found in the abdomen, lymph nodes, lungs and liver.
What is Cat Cancer?In a normal cat, cells are constantly dying and being replaced. In a cat with cancer, something is wrong with the replacement cells (called mutant cells). These mutant cells reproduce quickly and form into large groupings. Since these cells are mutant, they cannot provide the same function as the healthy cells they replaced. If these cells or cancer grows, it eventually replaces healthy tissue and weakens the various organs until your cat can no longer survive.
Half of all cancer cases in cats can be traced to the feline leukemia virus (leukemia) which effects the lymph nodes (lymphosarcoma) and blood cells.
Types of Cat CancerBladder Cancer Feline: This type of cancer is often confused with a bladder infection. Symptoms include difficulty urinating and difficulty defecating. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Feline Bone Cancer: occurs when a tumor grows and spreads inside the bone. The most common type is called osteosarcoma. This is a rare condition. Symptoms of feline bone cancer include swelling in the leg or a limp.
Cat Breast Cancer and TumorsThere are several types of feline breast cancer
- Mammary Hyperplasia: Un-spayed cats are susceptible to this condition that involves a swelling of the mammary glands. This condition is treated by spaying your cat.
Breast Tumors: Occurs when a mass forms in the cats breast (cats have four pairs of mammary glands). The disease is seen in cats over 6 years old and it is rare in cats that have been spayed.
Reproductive tract cancer: hard to detect until the cancer grows large. Watch for symptoms that affect bowel movements or eating.
Colon Cancer Feline: is difficult to diagnose since it shares symptoms with many other diseases such as viral and bacterial infections. The disease is treated with surgery.
Cat Mouth Cancer: this type of cancer involves tumors that usually form on the tongue or at the base of a tooth. The most common type is called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Treatments for feline oral cancer tend not to be effective with surgery being the most common approach.
Feline Intestinal Lymphoma: is a condition that causes cancerous growth in the intestinal tract. Treatment involves chemotherapy and possibly surgery.
Cat Lymphoma: feline lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the white blood cells. It can occur in one or different areas of the body. Cats with feline leukemia virus are particularly susceptible to this condition. Feline lymphoma symptoms include weight loss, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea. Lymphoma can affect different parts of your cat's body such as feline renal lymphoma.
Lymphosarcoma: cancer of the lymph system
Leukemia: 50% of all cat cancers is classified as leukemia which is cancer of the white blood cells. It is usually accompanied by a weak immune system which results in other diseases such as bacterial infection, fungal infection, anemia (low red blood cell count), peritonitis (inflammation in the abdomen), kidney disease (glomerulonephritis) and toxoplasmosis (infectious disease caused by a protozoa).
Lung Cancer: this is a rare condition that starts by showing respiratory symptoms such as coughing. Surgery can help with cases that are caught early.
Liver Cancer (hepatic neoplasia): usually due to cancer that spreads from other parts of the body. Lymphoma is the most common tumor type.
Cat Skin Tumors - Lumps and Bumps on the Skin
- Cysts (wens, sebaceous cysts): capsule on the skin wiht soft material inside called keratin that could grow to an inch in length. Cured through drainage or surgical removal.
- Warts and Papillomas: Tend to be removed if start to bleed.
- Lipomas: fat cells that have a round smooth appearance. Can grow to several inches wide. Not harmful or painful.
Hematomas: When blood collects underneath the skin due to an injury that occured in the area. May need to be drained.
- Tender Knots: Caused where there has been an injection. Not dangerous.
Cat Skin CancerThere are several different types of cat skin cancer.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Cat (epidermoid carcinoma): - Squuamous cell carcinoma in cats are found in the top layer of the skin. Tumors can be found near body openings and on the tips of the ears and have a cauliflower like appearance. Can also happen on the lips (called indolent cancer). If you suspect this cancer see your veterinarian since it will spread if left untreated.
- Basal Cell Cancer: Growths underneath the skin that appear as bumps. Often found on the legs and abdomen. Treatment is through surgery.
Feline Mast Cell Tumor
- Growths under one inch that are found on the legs and lower abdomen. Treated with cortisone to shrink the tumors.
Mast cell tumors are usually treated with surgery. For tumors that are hard to reach or not completely removed, then radiation appears to help when combined with surgery.
- Melanomas: Usually a spot that is dark in color (brown or black) that is spreading or bleeding. Your veterinarian will remove questionable melanomas.
For treatment of squamous cell carcinoma retinoic acid applied to the skin is effective. This medication changes the behavior of cells and can reverse this condition. Radiation and chemotherapy are also effective.
Feline Stomach Cancer: this type of cancer tends to be diagnosed after it has spread. Treatment is primarily with surgery to remove diseased tissue. Chemotherapy and radiation are not commonly used due to the effect on surrounding organs.
Cat Cancer SymptomsThese are eight early warning signs of cancer in your cat:
- Unusual swelling that continues to grow
- Sores that do not heal
- Weight Loss
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
- Reluctance to move
- Loss of energy
- Difficulty breathing, urinating or making a bowel movement
- Sleeping more than usual
Cancer Symptoms Requiring Emergency Treatment- Your cat has collapsed
- Bleeding after receiving chemotherapy
- Loss of appetite while undergoing treatment
Cat Cancer Symptoms Requiring a Call or Visit to Your VeterinarianSkin : Sores, bumps, lumps
Leg : Swelling or a limp
Seizure - Cat that has a seizure (uncontrolled shaking) for the first time
Nose : Blood coming from the nose
Mouth : Lump, bump or growth
Breast : Lump or swelling
Diagnosis of CancerDetermining if your cat has cancer usually requires more than blood tests or x-rays. Your Veterinarian will need to take a sample of the area in question (a biopsy) and send it to a laboratory to test for the presence of cancer. Cancer cannot be diagnosed visually since an examination of individual cells is necessary. If cancer cells are found (called malignant), your entire cat will need to be examined since many types of cancer can spread.
Cancer is graded based on its severity. Low grade cancer tends to be confined to a local area and grow larger in size. They do spread, but late in the progression of the disease.
Tests for Cat CancerBiopsy : The removal of a small sample or an attempt to completely remove a cancerous mass. The biopsy is sent to a lab for analysis. A veterinarian may remove an entire lymph node to see if cancer has spread or if cancer of the lymph nodes exists.
Fine-needle Aspiration (FNA) : Like a biopsy, but instead of surgery, a needle is used to extract cancerous cells for testing.
Blood Tests : There is no blood test for cancer. Changes in the composition of blood could indicate problems such as low red blood cells, high white blood cells or changes in kidney and liver function.
X-Ray : An x-ray will detect tumors in the lungs, chest or bones.
Ultrasound : The best technique for detecting tumors in the abdomen. A biopsy would be needed to confirm any findings.
Endoscopy : A video camera on a thin tube that is inserted into the mouth or nose to look for tumors.
Surgery : To examine any area in question.
CT/MRI Scans: Best technique for detecting tumors that are near bone and are unable to be seen by X-rays.
Treatment for Cat CancerEarly stage cancers have a higher success rate than late stage cancers. There are three main types of treatment for cat cancer:
Surgery - The tumor is removed surgically.
Radiation - Radiation is used to shrink the tumor. This is used when a tumor is unable to be removed surgically due to its location.
Chemotherapy - This involves the use of strong medications to kill the cancer cells. It is used when a tumor is unable to be removed surgically and is often used in combination with radiation. It may also be used after surgery to make sure to kill any remaining cancer cells. Chemotherapy treatment has side effects in cats.
Alternative Treatments for Cat CancerCheck with your veterinarian or consult with a homeopathic veterinarian to see if it makes sense to supplement traditional cancer therapies with alternative treatments such as acupuncture, aromatherapy and homeopathy. This is also a good choice if you decide to forgo treatment when those options will result in a poor quality of life and want to possibly slow the progression of cancer.
Homeopathic options can help to boost your cat's immune and and lymph systems, two critical parts of fighting cancer. PetAlive C-Caps is made for this purpose and to slow down the spread of cancer cells to the surrounding tissue. Discuss this and any treatment options with your veterinarian.
Sources for Cat Cancer:IVIS
Nutrition and Cancer: New Keys for Cure and Control 2003!
Gregory K. Ogilvie, DVM, DACVIM (Internal Medicine & Oncology)
Colorado State University
Ft. Collins, CO, USA
Antony Moore, BVSC
Director, Veterinary Oncology Consultants
Carlson, Delbert G. DVM
Cat Owner's HOme Veterinary Handbook