Skin tumors are relatively common problems for cats, but it can still be scary when you find a lump on their skin. Certain breeds, such as Siamese, Persians, and other longhaired cats tend to have tumors more frequently, so you'll want to check their skin often. It's important to have any cat skin tumors or lumps examined by your vet, who will need to do a biopsy and other tests to determine if the tumor is malignant or cancerous.
The good news is that there are many treatments for skin cancers in cats, and chances of remission only get better the earlier you catch the problem. You can even take steps to help prevent cancer through careful nutrition and a healthy lifestyle for your cat.
Is it Cancer?
Cats may experience certain skin problems that can be mistaken for skin cancer. While they may not be as serious as cancer, they should still be examined and treated:
Benign Tumor: A non-cancerous tumor, however they may still need to be removed
Fungal Infection: Ringworm infections, like sporotrichosis, can cause skin lesions or significant irritation
Allergic Reaction: Some allergic reactions, such as eosinophilic granuloma, can cause raised ulcers, especially on the mouth, face, feet, and thighs
If a tumor appears to be growing, or if it appears as an open wound that isn't healing, it’s more likely that the tumor is cancerous. Either way, it is important to have every tumor examined by a vet. Only a veterinarian can give an exact diagnosis with a biopsy and other lab tests, and they will likely recommend surgical removal and additional treatment, especially if the tumor is malignant.
Most Common Skin Tumors in Cats
While cats are susceptible to many types of skin tumors, a few types are seen more often than others. Since they are so common, veterinary oncologists have been able to develop specialized treatments that can improve the prognosis for your cat.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma: This tumor is the most common, especially for Siamese, domestic longhaired, and any older cats. It can take the form of a single growth on top of the head, or sheets of bumps which may also be found on the back and chest. These tumors tend to spread by extension, rather than by metastasizing (spreading to organs or to another area), so there is less risk of malignancy, but removal and treatment is still recommended.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma or Epidermoid Carcinoma: This tumor looks like a cauliflower growth or gray wound which has trouble healing, and is usually located around the mouth, groin, or other orafices, such as the upper and lower lips, nose, and ear tips. There has been some presumed correlation between this cancer and second hand smoke, but no research has been conclusive. Cats may lick the tumor area to the point of hair loss due to irritation.
- Mast Cell Tumors: Mast cell tumors have a one in three chance of being malignant and most commonly affect Siamese cats. These tumors are often found on the back legs, groin, and lower abdomen. They are usually less than one inch long and can become an open wound that has trouble healing. These tumors can spread to organs, especially the spleen, so it's important to treat as early as possible.
- Melanomas: Just like in humans, melanomas can start from moles and then begin to spread, become raised, or bleed. Melanomas spread very easily and can be found anywhere on the skin or in the mouth. Uveal melanomas can be found in the eyes of older cats, often changing the pigment color and causing pain.
Treatment and Prognosis of Skin Tumors in Cats
Hopefully you and your vet will catch a skin tumor in its early stages. If caught before spreading, there is a much better chance of remission and recovery after surgical removal. Sometimes it will be necessary to use other treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy to stop the spread of a malignant tumor. While your cat is recovering, it will be important to limit their activity and exposure to other animals.
While there is still a lot to be learned about cat skin tumors, veterinary oncologists are finding better treatments every year, and giving cats and their pet parents more time together. Unfortunately, these additional treatments can become very expensive, so you may need to discuss the costs and benefits with your vet.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.