Pancreatic Exocrine Neoplasia (Pancreatic Cancer) in Cats

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Overview of Feline Pancreatic Neoplasia

Exocrine tumors of the pancreas are tumors that arise from the glandular tissue of the pancreas that produces digestive secretions. Most of these tumors are malignant (adenocarcinomas). Benign exocrine pancreatic tumors are extremely rare. Tumors of the pancreas is referred to as “pancreatic cancer”.

There is no known underlying cause. They occur more commonly in older animals. They are slightly more common in cats than dogs.

Exocrine tumors of the pancreas are aggressive tumors that invade nearby tissues and spread to distant organs. The clinical signs of exocrine pancreatic cancer cannot be differentiated from the clinical signs of benign pancreatic disease. The outlook for this disease is extremely poor with most cats surviving for less than three months following diagnosis.

What to Watch For

An acute or chronic history of:

  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Anorexia
  • Weight loss and lethargy
  • Diagnosis of Pancreatic Exocrine Neoplasia in Cats

  • Your veterinarian will palpate your cat’s abdomen, feeling for pain, distension or even the presence of a lump or mass. Some cats may show signs of jaundice because a pancreatic tumor can obstruct the flow of bile from the liver to the small intestine resulting in elevated levels of bile products in the blood causing the skin and mucous membranes to appear yellow.
  • X-rays may help to confirm the presence of a pancreatic disease and sometimes can help to define the presence of a mass on the pancreas. Ultrasonography is usually far more specific to detect types of pancreatic disease but this test needs to be performed by an experienced ultrasonographer.
  • Laboratory findings may be consistent with bile outflow obstruction, dehydration and the body’s normal response of inflammation without being specific for a pancreatic exocrine tumor.
  • Treatment of Pancreatic Exocrine Neoplasia in Cats

  • Medical management of cats with exocrine pancreatic neoplasia is generally unrewarding as these tumors are not particularly responsive to chemotherapeutic agents.
  • Surgery is the treatment of choice, although the tumor has usually advanced by the time of diagnosis making resection difficult. Sometimes, the tumor has spread to organs such as the local lymph nodes, spleen and liver at the time of surgery.
  • The majority of  cats that have exocrine pancreatic neoplasia confirmed at the time of surgery are put to sleep while under general anesthesia due to the poor prognosis for this disease.
  • Home Care and Prevention

    On rare occasions when there is no obvious evidence of spread to other organs, an exocrine pancreatic tumor can be removed, and your pet may recover from the surgery.

    Hospitalization in an intensive care unit is usually required for several days following the procedure. Intravenous fluids are supported by food given intravenously or via a feeding tube to the small intestine, placed at the time of surgery.

    Feeding tubes must stay in place for at least 5 to 7 days following surgery so feeding and tube management may continue for some time once your pet comes home. Offering food and water by mouth may be delayed for several days following surgery. Postoperative antibiotic treatment is not routine for animals with pancreatic tumors.

    There is no known underlying cause for pancreatic exocrine neoplasia and therefore no way to preempt the disease. Taking a middle aged or older pet with a history of vomiting, weight loss and perhaps abdominal pain, to your veterinarian at the earliest opportunity is best action you can take. Having said this, exocrine pancreatic tumors are a bad disease, and the prognosis is generally extremely poor.

    In-depth Information on Pancreatic Exocrine Neoplasia in Cats

    The clinical signs for exocrine pancreatic neoplasia are the same as for many other diseases, some of which carry a much more favorable prognosis.

  • Abdominal pain could derive from an array of potentially life threatening disorders such as a septic peritonitis, which is a bacterial infection of the lining of the abdomen, arising from a perforated loop of bowel, a ruptured gall bladder or an abscess on the spleen, liver, pancreas, prostate or kidney. X-rays and ultrasound are helpful in recognizing these disorders.
  • Non-infectious causes of abdominal pain, which may be accompanied by abdominal distension, include acute or chronic pancreatitis, gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), mesenteric volvulus, interssusception or other form of intestinal obstruction. Plain X-rays may be the only diagnostic tool necessary to define the gastrointestinal disorders. Pancreatitis can be appreciated by ultrasound in the hands of a skilled ultrasonographer.
  • Disorders of the spine, such as a herniated intervertebral disk or an infection involving the disk known as diskospondylitis, can mimic pancreatic disease by creating abdominal guarding or splinting with a sense of pain on abdominal palpation. Careful physical examination and lack of finding on abdominal X-rays or ultrasound would steer your vet toward a spinal problem.
  • Urinary tract disorders such as inflammation of the bladder (cystitis) or urethral obstruction can create abdominal pain that can be misinterpreted as a pancreatic problem. These urogenital abnormalities would become apparent during the work-up of the case.
  • Vomiting and anorexia are seen in cases of pancreatic exocrine neoplasia and are clinical signs for a huge list of common non-pancreatic disorders such as dietary indiscretion and viral, bacterial or parasitic gastroenteritis. The signs demonstrated by your cat and dog will be pieced together with your pet’s signalment and history. Not every vomiting cat or dog is going to require a long list of diagnostic tests.
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