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Skin Cancer in Cats: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

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Skin Cancer in Cats: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Posted by Julianne Macaraeg on
Updated at: October 28, 2020

As unfortunate as it is, cats can develop cancer. This is one of the most terrifying possibilities for pet owners to have to face, but it's important to be informed rather than stay in the dark. Health concerns are never fun to think about, but when you're educated on the matter, you are better equipped to help your cat overcome any and all health-related obstacles.

When it comes to skin cancer, prevention is key. When you know how to prevent your cat from developing skin cancer tumors, you can actively minimize the chances of your cat ever receiving a skin cancer diagnosis in the first place. However, even though preventive measures are the best tool, your cat can still develop skin cancer regardless of how hard you try to avoid it. 

When preventative measures fail, your next best option is early detection. When you understand what to look out for, you can detect cancer a lot more readily. The sooner cancer symptoms are spotted, the sooner medical professionals can apply certain treatment options to your pet’s situation. 

For those of you with cats facing a skin cancer diagnosis, we feel for you and we want to create an informative space for you to gather the facts about feline skin cancer. First, we’ll dive into the common types of feline skin cancer. Then, we can focus on the various symptoms of skin cancer, followed by diagnostic test options and treatment plans for cats with skin cancer. 

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Common Types of Skin Cancer in Cats 

There isn’t just one type of feline skin cancer. Instead, there are multiple different types of cancer. Today, we are going to introduce you to eight of the most common kinds of feline skin cancer. 

The eight skin cancer types that we are going to talk about today include… 

  • Angiosarcomas 
  • Basal cell carcinoma 
  • Basal cell tumors 
  • Benign fibroblastic tumors 
  • Melanomas 
  • Mast cell tumors 
  • Soft tissue sarcoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma  

Angiosarcomas

Angiosarcomas are fast to grow and even faster to spread. They metastasize at an alarmingly high rate. Known as soft tissue tumors, angiosarcomas appear seemingly out of nowhere, though it's worth mentioning that older male cats that have been neutered are at a higher risk for developing angiosarcomas. We’ll talk about soft tissue sarcomas in more detail later on, so stay tuned for additional information that applies to angiosarcomas. 

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Skin cancers are differentiated between based on where they originate within the layers of skin. There are three layers of skin in cats—the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutis—all of which are susceptible to cancerous tumors. Basal cell carcinoma is one example of cancerous masses that form in the outermost layer of skin, known as the epidermis. Basal cell carcinomas are the type of tumors that pose a serious threat to the cat, meaning the tumors are malignant.

Basal Cell Tumors

Similar to a basal cell carcinoma, basal cell tumors form in the epidermis of cats. However, basal cell tumors are benign. This means that, even though they are cancers, these tumors do not spread rapidly throughout the body and cause an immediate threat to your cat’s well being. They should still be taken care of but they carry less weight than a basal cell carcinoma.  

Benign Fibroblastic Tumors

As mentioned, a benign tumor is seemingly harmless. They still need to be addressed, but these types of tumors are not as daunting as malignant ones. So, this is all to say that benign fibroblastic tumors are not a fatal form of feline cancer. 

There are two kinds of benign fibroblastic tumors. One of these kinds of tumors is called collagenous nevi, which occur when collage builds up and creates a mass in your cat's skin. The other type of benign fibroblastic tumor is known as a fibroma, which develops in the dermis of cat skin. 

Melanomas 

There are certain cells within your cat's skin that are called melanocytes. These cells are the reason behind your cat's coloring! They provide pigmentation, but sometimes, they can mass produce which creates a tumor known as a melanoma. Sometimes, melanomas are malignant, in which case they are reasonably called malignant melanomas. In other instances, melanomas are benign, and when they are benign, they are medically referred to as melanocytomas. 

Mast Cell Tumors 

These tumors grow from none other than mast cells, which are scattered all throughout your cat's skin layers. There are two types of mast cell tumors, so bear with us as we differentiate between the two forms. The first type is called the mast cell type. Sounds easy enough to remember, right? 

Mast cell type tumors are more common than the second type, which we'll talk about in a moment. Mast cell type tumors tend to affect cats that are at least four years old. Most often, mast cell type tumors grow near the neck or on the head of cats. The other kind of mast cell tumor is called the histiocytic type.

These are more commonly found in the skin of Siamese cats. Usually, just like mast cell type tumors, the histiocytic type of mast cell tumor only affects Siamese cats that are four years old or older. 

Soft Tissue Sarcoma

Soft tissue sarcomas originate in connective tissues throughout your cat's body. Connective tissues are exactly what you think they are! They connect tissues together, acting as the glue that holds tissues together. As the name suggests, a soft tissue sarcoma tumor is made up of soft connective tissues. 

This means that these tumors can be found just about anywhere in your cat's body. Since soft tissues include blood vessels, fat, muscles, and tendons, it can be hard to pinpoint a soft tissue sarcoma because it could be just about anywhere. This is why it's important to know the signs and be able to recognize the symptoms of sarcomas in cats. 

Squamous Cell Carcinoma 

Not only does squamous cell carcinoma grow from cells in your cat's mouth, but it is also one of the most commonly found tumors in the skin of our feline friends. The squamous cell carcinoma is deeply linked to too much sun exposure. 

The lighter your cat's fur color, the more at-risk for squamous cell carcinomas your cat will naturally be, so keep an eye on your furry friend if they have a light colored coat of fur. A case of squamous cell carcinoma can move quickly, so be sure to bring up any concerns with your vet immediately. These tumors are not only locally aggressive but eager to metastasize as well. 

What Are the Symptoms of Cat Skin Cancer? 

Skin tumors in our feline friends can cause a wide array of symptoms. Some of these symptoms are visible to the naked eye whereas others are only able to be seen with microscopes or through diagnostic tests. Either way, it’s helpful to know about the many symptoms of feline skin-related tumors. 

Some of these symptoms include… 

  • Weakened immune system
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes
  • Drastic and sudden weight loss 
  • Hair loss where scabs are forming
  • Sores that are scabbing over 
  • Open wounds and external lesions 
  • Ulcers and/or heightened stress levels 
  • Unusual bumps on the skin 
  • Odd coloration of wounds 
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Difficulty catching his or her breath 
  • Hard time playing or running around 
  • Frequently sneezing with discharge 
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How Cats with Skin Cancer are Diagnosed 

The two most frequently implemented diagnostic tests for cats exhibiting signs of cancer are biopsies and fine needle aspirations. Your veterinarian will decide which one is best between these two options, so you should certainly feel comfortable trusting your cat's vet in this regard. These two diagnostic tools allow professionals to understand if the mass is made up of cancerous cells or not. 

Other veterinarians will opt into taking a small sample from the surrounding lymph nodes instead of taking cells from the tumor itself. From there, certain X-rays might be ordered to further understand the situation. Usually, if X-rays are taken, it's for the sake of understanding if the cancerous cells moved from the location of the tumor to other parts of the body. 

How to Treat Skin Cancer in Cats 

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Treatment options for these various types of skin-related cancers vary. The treatment options that your cat ends up receiving will be based on the symptoms, severity, and location of the cancerous cells. 

That being said, many cats undergo radiation therapy as part of the treatment plan. This is because radiation therapy has been shown to work wonders as a form of cancer treatment. Many cats successfully enter remission after receiving radiation therapy for their tumor. 

In other instances, surgical removal might be requested on behalf of your cat. When our feline friends have tumors that are either incredibly big or just all around disruptive, surgical removal is an excellent option. Surgery will rid your cat’s body of the tumor altogether, and radiation might follow to ensure that any remaining cancer cells do not continue to grow. 

Sources:

Skin Lumps and Bumps in Cats
Squamous Cell Cancer: Dangerous
Angiosarcoma in cats
Feline Melanoma
Tumors of the Skin in Cats
Squamous Cell Carcinomas in Cats
Basal Cell Tumors
Cannabis and Cannabinoids
Using CBD Oil For Cats with Cancer

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