Diagnosing and Treating Cancer in Cats
At Cat Care Center of Baton Rouge, we understand that feline cancer is a devastating diagnosis. It is natural to feel highly emotional. However, a cat cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a hopeless one. Depending upon how early it is identified, and the type of cancer involved, there are certainly options that can lead to very positive outcomes.
Our veterinarian and support staff are well trained, highly empathetic, and understanding of the fact that it is necessary to focus on both the emotional and medical aspects of treating cats with cancer. We are here to work with you to make sure you have a good understanding of your cat's illness and to help you make decisions that will be best for you and your cat.
How Common is Cancer in Cats?
Similar to human beings, cancer in cats is a leading cause of death among older felines. Although the specific causes of cancer in cats is currently unknown, many experts consider the feline leukemia virus to be a contributor. Other factors that might increase a cat's risk of cancer include toxins from the environment, second hand smoke, exposure to UV light, and long-term inflammation.
It is important for you to understand that depending on the specific circumstances of your cat's condition, feline cancer may be treatable. Medical advancements have provided us with more treatment options for cats with cancer. However, the best way to prevent cancer in cats is to emphasize a healthy lifestyle and adhere to a preventive health care regimen. This includes scheduling regular wellness checkups with your veterinarian. Cats have a tendency to mask their illnesses, making disease harder to detect. Cat Care Center believes preventative wellness care specifically suited to your cat's life stage allows for early intervention and detection of disease providing the best possible outcome!
Spotting Cat Cancer Symptoms
First and foremost, cancer in cats begins with spotting symptoms of the disease while it is still in the early stages. However, spotting symptoms can be tricky because cats are very good at hiding illness. Many forms of cat cancer can be externally noticed. Therefore, periodically inspecting your feline friend is key to spotting cancer symptoms. Some of the more common cat cancer symptoms include:
- Any lump that changes shape or size
- Any sore that does not heal
- Change in bowel or bladder habits
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Difficulty urinating or defecating
- Unexplained bleeding or discharge from body
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Chronic weight loss
- Difficulty breathing or coughing
- Oral odor
Should you spot any symptoms, we urge you to schedule an appointment with us immediately. Only then can Dr. Lacie perform the necessary diagnostic tests to determine whether or not cancer is present, and to what extent. Cat cancer can be aggressive and requires immediate intervention. If cancer is diagnosed early, the prognosis for recovery increases significantly.
Types of Feline Cancer
There are various types of feline cancer. We have compiled a short list here, meant only to serve as an introduction to some of the more common types of feline cancer. If you suspect your cat may have cancer, please schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
- Ceruminous Adenomas are small dark blue, brown, or black and are usually confined to the external ear canal.
- Lymphoma, Lymphosarcoma (LSA) is a cancer of a specific white blood cell called the lymphocyte. Lymphoma cells can grow anywhere in the body, but there are certain sites that are more commonly affected by lymphoma than others (the gastrointestinal tract, mediastinum, and lymph nodes). Symptoms may include loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stool, and constipation. LSA can only be formally diagnosed through examinations and tests the veterinarian can perform.
- Myeloproliferative tumors are cancers affecting the bone marrow and blood. Symptoms may include weakness, labored breathing, pale mucus membranes, and a loss of appetite.
- Basal cell tumor is one of the more common skin tumors that tend to occur in older cats. They usually are found around the neck, head, ears, and shoulders. They are mostly benign and in cats are often pigmented, cystic, and occasionally ulcerated.
- Squamous cell carcinomas affect areas lacking natural pigmentation, such as the oral cavity, tonsils, lips, nose, eyelids, external ear, limbs, toes, and nails. They can also occur in areas under constant irritation or trauma and rarely may develop in internal organs. Diagnosis takes place by performing biopsies.
- Mast cell tumors can affect the skin (cutaneous) or internal organs (visceral). Skin mast cell tumors generally form on the head, neck, and body, but can be anywhere. They are usually small, firm, raised, hairless, and may be itchy. Visceral mast cell tumors most commonly affect the spleen. They can cause lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss, and vomiting. A series of tests and a biopsy will be necessary for diagnosis.
- Osteosarcoma tumors affect the bones, and sometimes non-bony tissues including liver, mammary glands, spleen, kidneys, and lungs. These tumors can lead to swelling, lameness and pain, coughing, and breathing difficulties. Diagnostic tools will include radiographs, ultrasound, and biopsies.
- Fibrosarcoma tumors occur in the fibrous tissue just beneath a cat's skin. They can also develop inside the cat's body. Fibrosarcomas can appear as solid, irregular masses underneath the skin. A biopsy is the most accurate diagnostic tool. Other tests may be necessary.
Lumps underneath the skin do not always indicate cancerous tumors in cats. It is also possible to find what seems like the symptoms described above without the presence of cancer. Therefore, if your cat is exhibiting any of these symptoms, we recommend making a veterinary appointment immediately and avoiding the urge to make your own diagnosis. Only your veterinarian can accurately diagnose cat cancer or another potentially dangerous illness or condition that might be developing in your feline friend.
Cancer Treatment for Cats
The first key to cancer treatment for cats is proper diagnosis. At Cat Care Center of Baton Rouge, we begin with a full physical examination. We commonly look at bloodwork and, when necessary, employ the use of diagnostic imaging such as radiography or ultrasound. We will also perform needle aspirates, which is a form of biopsy where a needle is inserted into the tumor to collect cells for use in determining tumor type. This is a non-painful and minimally invasive method used for diagnosis. Some tumor types require a core biopsy for diagnosis. In certain cases, we may recommend further diagnostic testing (such as MRI and CT scans) and consult a veterinary oncologist to be part of our team in providing the best treatment options for your cat.
Communication is important throughout the process of diagnosis and treatment. This includes discussing all possible cancer treatment options for your cat and the various possible outcomes. Our number one concern is the best interest of your cat. We also evaluate the costs involved, your expectations, possible lifestyle changes, and any possible side effects of treatment to ensure that you are able to make informed decisions.
Treating cancer in cats varies greatly depending on the location and stage of the cancer. Traditional cancer treatments may involve:
- Oral medication
- Intravenous chemotherapy
- Radiation therapy
- Surgical reduction or removal of the tumor
- Ancillary pain management
Complementary treatments may include nutritional therapy.
Fortunately, for all the unknowns where cat cancer is concerned, we do know more about cancer in cats now than we ever have before and because of this, you now have more options than ever when pursuing cancer treatment.
What to Do if You Suspect Your Cat Has Cancer
If you suspect your cat may have cancer, whether finding a lump or noticing behavioral changes, please contact us immediately to schedule an appointment. Cat Care Center staff will provide you and your feline friend with compassionate, comprehensive care and support services. Although cancer can be frightening and painful, we are here to help ease your cat's pain and suffering and eliminate the cancer as best as we can through the best veterinary care available.