Skin cancer in cats refers to a variety of types of malignant (cancerous) tumors found on your cat’s skin. Skin cancer is distinguished from other types of tumors , including non-malignant sebaceous cysts, as the cancer can spread to surrounding body structures and cause damage to other cells and tissues.
Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Cats
The epidermis, or skin, consists of several layers. The outer layer is made up of a cell-like scale called the squamous epithelium. This layer of tissue covers the surface of much of the body and lines the body cavities. A squamous cell carcinoma is a type of cancer that begins in the squamous epithelium. It may look like a white plaque or a raised bump on the skin. Often the raised mass will become necrotic in the center and ulcerate, with occasional bleeding.
Since carcinomas are characteristically malignant and particularly invasive , it is essential that this form of skin cancer is diagnosed and treated without delay. Squamous cell carcinomas of the skin are typically fast-growing tumors that grow over time and resist healing. Some cats can have as many as thirty sores on their skin, a condition called Bowen’s disease. Both types of squamous cell carcinoma can metastasize to other organs. If the ulcers are diagnosed before they have had a chance to become malignant, this condition can be effectively treated in some cases.
Squamous cell carcinomas are seen more in cats that live at high altitudes and in cats that spend a lot of time in the sun. White cats and light-colored cats are more likely to get these tumors than other types of cats. This type of cancer is more common in older cats.
Symptoms of skin cancer in cats
Symptoms of skin cancer in your cat often begin very subtly. As the disease progresses, the signs will become more noticeable. Examining your cat regularly while petting him will help in early identification and better long-term treatment options.
Symptoms to look out for include:
- Redness or red patches on the skin
- Scaly or dry patches on the skin
- Itching in specific isolated areas of the skin
- Ulcers or lesions on the skin
- Open wounds that have no apparently harmful cause
- Open wounds or sores that don’t heal
- Swelling of the skin in isolated areas.
Types of skin cancer in cats
While skin cancer refers to any number of cancers that affect your cat’s epidermis, there are several common types of skin cancer that you should be aware of.
1. Basal cell carcinoma
By affecting the upper or basal layer of the skin and appearing along the head, neck, legs, and chest, basal cell carcinomas are malignant tumors that increase in size and can spread to neighboring skin.
2. Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common forms of skin cancer in cats. The tumors often occur around openings in the body and in areas exposed to the sun and rarely metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body.
3. Mast cell tumors
Small tumors with a distinct appearance of ulcerated, damaged, or dead skin, mast cell tumors tend to appear on the legs and abdomen and can often spread rapidly to other parts of the body.
Melanomas can be distinguished from other types of cancer by their color. These black or brown tumors can be found in numerous places around your cat’s body.
Possible causes of skin cancer in cats
For some forms of skin cancer, the exact cause is unknown. However, there are several generally accepted causes for the most common types:
- Prolonged sun exposure
- Exposure to environmental toxins
- Exposure to cigarette smoke
- Hereditary predisposition
Diagnosis of skin cancer in cats
The diagnosis of skin cancer in your cat will begin during a complete physical exam of your cat’s body . In some cases, identification and diagnosis can be made during routine veterinary visits.
If you previously identified symptoms, you should make a particular note of any changes in the appearance of the skin or tumors. Growth or shape changes can help identify the type of skin cancer in your cat, as well as provide initial clues about severity and the best course of treatment.
Your vet will then take several samples from your cat. These will include skin scrapings or samples of any ulcerated tissue or mole-like structures. Your vet will also draw a complete blood panel, and depending on the severity of the condition, may also take a tissue sample from nearby lymph nodes to determine if the cancer has spread.
Finally, your vet will want to take pictures of your cat, such as chest X-rays or ultrasounds, to confirm that the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment of skin cancer in cats
The preferred method of treatment for skin cancer in your cat will almost always be removal of the tumor. In cases where skin cancer is found early, tumors can be small and easily removed during a surgical procedure. Your cat will need to be admitted to the hospital and anesthetized.
Then, your veterinarian will remove the affected tissue carefully , making sure to get clean margins or area uninfected cells and noncancerous around the tumor to ensure that the cancer does not grow back.
In cases where skin cancer has grown too large or spread to other parts of the body and has become inoperable, chemotherapy or radiation may be alternative alternative treatment options. . Chemotherapy will involve giving your cat strong tumor-fighting drugs for several months.
There may be side effects to chemotherapy, such as weight loss or loss of appetite . These side effects can be lessened by various medications prescribed by your vet.
Recovery from skin cancer in cats
Depending on the severity of your cat’s skin cancer, the prognosis is very good for recovery . If the skin cancer was of a type that does not spread quickly, removing the tumor will provide a cure and allow your cat a normal , long and healthy life.
It will be important to follow up with regular veterinary exams to make sure the cancer does not recur. You should also speak to your vet about preventative measures that can be taken to decrease or avoid sun exposure on your cat’s skin.
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