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Feline skin cancer is a term that encompasses a range of tumors. It occurs due to an uncontrolled growth of skin cells or associated structures, including supportive tissues. Skin cancer in cats is the second most common type of cancer in the feline community. Signs of squamous cell carcinoma or skin cancer often go unnoticed, as this appears more like a minor scratch or wart. Unfortunately, in most cases, it is detected only when the disease has progressed.
Types of Feline Skin Cancer
Depending on the cell type involved, skin cancer in cats is divided into four categories.
- Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer in cats. It affects most long hair and Siamese breeds. Basal cells are on the top layer of the skin. As a result, the skin cancer leads to a bump or pink patch mostly on the chest and abdomen of cats. While it does not spread fast, it can be cured with surgical removal.
- Squamous cell carcinoma affects cats without skin pigment. It can be of two types – epithelial tumors that involve skin, glands, and hair follicles and mesenchymal tumors that develop in connective tissue, fat, and blood vessels supporting the skin. Tumors develop mostly in areas exposed to the sun, including chest, back, face, or the edge of the ear. As a result, it starts with a scaly patch or red bump while sores that reopen after healing are an indication of this type of skin cancer in cats.
- Mast cell tumors are small lesions with damaged or dead skin cells that mostly appear in legs, around the reproductive organs, and abdomen. Small dead skin patches or ulcers are initial signs of this type of skin cancer in cats. It spreads fast and affects the spleen, which is responsible to produce immune cells in your cat.
- Melanoma occurs in the form of a black or brown spot on any part of the cat’s skin. The cancer affects melanocytes that provide skin pigmentation. As a result, it starts with a mole or black/brown spot on the skin and grows with changes in the shape. The cancer is the deadliest of all skin cancers in cats.
Common Symptoms of Skin Cancer in Cats
The outer layer of the skin is made up of the squamous epithelium, which is in the form of a layer of scale-like cells. The squamous epithelium covers a majority of the cat’s body surface. It also lines the body cavities. Feline skin cancer or squamous cell carcinoma originates in the squamous epithelium in the form of a raised mass. The raised bump will turn into an ulcer and necrotize in the center. The tumor may bleed occasionally.
Exposure to the sun is one of the most likely causes of a higher incidence of skin cancer in cats, though the clear reason is still unknown. White kitties and those that live outdoors are at a higher risk of squamous cell carcinoma. The cancer starts in those parts that have a thin hair coat. The cat’s eyelids, nose, and ears have a thin coat of hair and are thus greatly exposed to sunlight.
Some of the most common symptoms of feline cancer include:
- An ulcer may be like a bleeding sore on the cat’s skin. No antibiotics or topical creams seem to work on the sores. As a result, sores do not heal for months and there is a heavy hair fall in that area. If you spot a lump in a part where there is thinly furred or light-colored skin, it could be an ulcer.
- Do you see a discolored skin part on the kitty’s body? Can you see dry, hard, and crusty lesion near the sore? Well, it could be an ulcer.
- Sores or lesions with a rough surface may be found on the eyelids, bridge of the nose, lips, ear tips, or toes. The lesions may be with or without scabs.
Diagnosis of Skin Cancer in Cats
Your veterinarian will require a thorough history of your kitty’s health. This will include giving detailed information about the onset of symptoms. You may also share with the vet any possible incidents that could be responsible for the condition.
Was your feline friend involved in a recent fight with another animal or kitty that caused skin injuries? Was she infested with fleas that would have caused her to scratch her skin vigorously, leaving open wounds that got infected?
Next, the vet will conduct a thorough physical examination, closely observing any tiny, scabby sores or skin growths that look like lumps or tumors that have not healed for several months.
The vet may palpate the kitty’s lymph nodes to find out any swelling in the area. Swollen lymph nodes are an indication that the cat’s body is fighting a serious infection.
The vet may take a sample of lymph fluid or blood work for further analysis.
A biopsy is done to confirm the presence of squamous cell carcinoma and determine its invasiveness. The veterinarian may perform lymph node biopsies to evaluate the extent of tumor growth. X-rays and computed tomography scans may also be performed.
Skin Cancer in Cats: Treatment
Generally, the course of treatment depends on the size and number of tumors. If you find any sores on your cat’s skin, consult the vet immediately. Treatment is still possible if skin cancer in cats is diagnosed in the initial stages.
Cryosurgery is performed if there is only a small tumor that has not metastasized. The freezing technique destroys the tumor. The vet may use photodynamic therapy, which is a special type of light therapy, to remove the lump.
Large lumps are treated with surgery. The surgeon removes the tumor along with the surrounding tissue to ensure removal of all cancer cells.
However, toe lumps or tumors require amputation of the toe. Similarly, if the lump is found in the ear or nose, a part of the organ must be removed to prevent the cancer from spreading further. Cats recover well from such surgeries.
Chemotherapy or radiation therapy is the only treatment option for a hard-to-remove tumor that has become invasive and involved several organs. This is done to prevent any further tumor growth and to make your furry friend a little more comfortable.
As far as skin cancer in cats is concerned, the prognosis is favorable if the tumor is detected early. Invasive treatment can prevent any further growth of cancerous cells.
Skin tumors in cats can get malignant as they are detected only when the disease has progressed. Middle-aged or older cats are the most common victims of the feline skin cancer. But this does not mean that young kittens are resistant to skin cancer.