What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Cats?
Feline mammary tumors are a type of cancer that presents itself in the mammary glands of cats. One of the essential tools in detecting feline mammary tumors is understanding what to look for. A bump under the skin is the most apparent sign of mammary cancer, but what if you don't notice a mass is developing in your cat's abdominal area? Are there other symptoms that you need to know?
Yes! There are many other symptoms of this cancer in our feline friends, including:
- Masses near the abdominal region
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Nipple discharge
- Unexplained weight loss
- Little to no appetite
- Asthmatic symptoms
- Breathing difficulties
- Difficulty healing wounds
- Wounds out of nowhere
Right behind cancerous masses themselves, problems with the lymph nodes are a telltale sign of cancer. When lymph nodes become enlarged, it's an indication that the disease is beginning to metastasize, which means it's spreading to other parts of the body.
It's easier to contain and treat cancer that stays local, so cancer that spreads poses an even more dangerous threat to your cat's well being. If you notice swelling of the lymph nodes, the situation is dire, and, if you haven't done so already, you should consult professionals immediately.
Can All Cats Get Breast Cancer?
There is a common misconception that only female cats can get breast cancer. If you think about the reasoning behind this assumption, it starts to make a lot of sense. Carcinomas demarcate breast cancer in the breasts. Since females grow breasts, people apply that logic to cats and assume that only female cats can get malignant mammary tumors.
However, to answer the question, "can all cats get breast cancer?" we must look more closely at breast cancer across the board, not just cats. To do this, let's talk about how malignant mammary tumors grow.
The takeaway here is that male cats can get breast cancer, too. Female cats are not the only ones with mammary glands. The main difference between male and female cats is that female cats have mature glands, and they eventually lactate, whereas male glands do not mature to the point of lactation. But they still have these glands despite not using them in the same way female cats do.
The Risk Factors of Breast Cancer in Cats
Even though all cats are fair game, and it's possible for any cat to receive a breast cancer diagnosis, not every cat gets breast gland cancer. What sets cats with cancer apart from cats that never contract a tumor in their entire lives? Most times, it all comes down to risk factors.
There are a few risk factors that predispose particular cats to feline mammary tumors in cats, including:
- Age of diagnosis
- Hormone levels
- Type of breed
Age of Diagnosis
Age plays a part in the onset of cancerous carcinoma in the mammary glands. It's very rare to see malignant mammary carcinoma in cats that are young. Most cats are at least eleven years old, on average.
Cats with breast gland lumps range between ten and twelve years old, but there are certainly outliers, so this is not to say only ten-, eleven-, and twelve-year-old cats get malignant mammary tumors. The main exception is when a cat has not yet been spayed, which ties into the second risk factor we're talking about today.
Hormones can play a key role in the development of cancer in breast glands. This has a lot to do with whether cats have been spayed, which affects their estrogen and progesterone levels.
It's best to spay a cat at a very young age. In fact, most foster parents and people who work at cat shelters will make sure the cats are spayed before they go home with the people ready to adopt them.
While older adult cats can still undergo surgery to remove their reproductive parts, it is best to take these measures when cats are still kittens. When cats are fixed at young ages before the age of two, they have a lower risk of developing mammary gland tumors than other cats of the same age who have not undergone surgery.
Type of Breed
Due to genotypes alone, some cats are born with a higher chance of someday developing lumps in their mammary glands, and there's not much that can be done when a predisposition is genetic. Based on genetics alone, Siamese cats are at the highest risk of developing mammary tumors.
Studies have shown that Siamese cats develop breast cancer masses more often and regularly than cats belonging to other breeds. The genetic makeup of Siamese cats predisposes them to mammary tumors.
How Are Mammary Gland Tumors Detected?
A few tests are utilized when veterinarians suspect that a mammary gland tumor is a cause behind your cat's symptoms. A physical exam is always a good idea when symptoms of mammary gland tumors are present.
Enlarged lymph nodes tend to be an immediate giveaway, as are physical lumps or masses. Since these carcinomas are often easily detected by way of a basic physical exam, some professionals will perform additional tests to confirm their suspicions.
Other examples of diagnostic tests for possible cancerous masses in cats include:
- Chest X-rays
- Other imaging options
- Surgical removal
- Histopathologic exams
- Fine needle aspirations
- Bloodwork and/or urinalysis
What is the Median Survival Time of Cats with Tumors?
As a disclaimer, every cat's chances of survival depends on the details of their situation. The rate of tumor development will directly impact the chances of remission, so always consult with your cat's vet for a more precise answer. In general, the median survival time of cats with breast cancer relates to tumor size and the rate of tumor development.
For example, if a cat has a tumor with a diameter of more than three centimeters, the median survival time is between four and six months. When the tumor size measures somewhere between two and three centimeters, the median survival time increases to about two years. When the tumor development has not gone beyond a diameter of two centimeters, the cat's median survival time is usually three years at a minimum.
How to Treat Feline Mammary Tumors in Cats
The most common treatment option is the surgical removal of the concerning mass. If surgery alone is not enough, radiation therapy may be used for treatment purposes as well. In more extreme cases, chemotherapy is ordered to target the cancerous cells even more directly.
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