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Skin Cancer in Cats

By: Dr. Kimberly Cronin

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Treatment for skin cancer may include one or more of the following:

Surgery

Surgery is the most commonly employed treatment of skin tumors. For benign skin tumors, surgery can be curative. For some malignant skin tumors, surgery can also be curative, although the chance of recurrence at the same site is higher because malignant tumors tend to be more invasive. Malignant tumors can also spread and surgery will have no effect on the potential for metastasis.

When removing a potentially malignant tumor, a wide margin of normal tissue needs to be taken as well as the tumor. Ideally, this margin should be 1 1/2 to 2 inches of normal tissue. In some locations, such as the leg or face, there may not be enough normal tissue that can be removed to ensure a wide excision. It should be expected that after a surgery for a malignant tumor that the incision is usually much larger than the original tumor.

Your veterinarian may biopsy the tumor before attempting to remove it. This is desirable in certain situations because it allows your veterinarian to determine how aggressive the surgery should be or whether surgery is the best option.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is used in the treatment of several different types of skin cancer. The most common tumor types that are treated with radiation therapy include: mast cell tumors, malignant mesenchymal tumors (a family of tumors called soft tissue sarcomas) and squamous cell carcinoma. Radiation therapy is most effective when surgery can be performed to reduce the amount of tumors to microscopic levels. This means that the tumor is no longer visible.

Radiation therapy usually involves multiple treatments given over several weeks. Each treatment requires a brief period of anesthesia since animals cannot move during their treatment. The most common side effects associated with radiation therapy are changes in the skin, such as redness of the skin, hair loss, oozing of the skin, which heal after the completion of radiation therapy.

If your veterinarian feels that radiation therapy may be helpful to your pet, he will refer you to a facility that has radiation therapy available.

Chemotherapy

The use of chemotherapy in the treatment of skin tumors is limited to certain situations. Chemotherapy may be recommended if the tumor has already metastasized, if there is a high potential for metastasis or if other treatments are not possible. The most common tumor types for which chemotherapy is recommended are lymphosarcoma and mast cell tumors.

The type of drugs used, the frequency at which they are administered and the length of treatment will depend upon several different factors, including: the type of tumor, whether the tumor was removed and if there are any metastases already present.

Chemotherapy is well tolerated in both cats and dogs and the risk of serious side effects is low. The most common side effects include gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite, or a drop in the white blood cell count.

Cryosurgery

Cryosurgery involves the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze the tumor. Tumor cells that are frozen will die so cryosurgery can be used to treat tumors. This type of therapy is not frequently used. It should be noted that recurrence of many tumors is likely because of the inability to kill the cells at the edges without having serious effects of healthy tissue.

Photodynamic Therapy

This new therapy can be used to treat certain types of skin cancer. It is used most frequently for the treatment of squamous cell carcinoma on the ears and nose of cats. It involves giving the patient an intravenous drug and then exposing the tumor to laser light. The drug sensitizes the tumor to the laser light and thus the tumor is killed. This type of therapy can be effective, but it requires special equipment and can leave animals sensitive to light for a period of time after treatment.

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