Overview of Feline Skin Cancer
Skin cancer encompasses a broad category of tumors that includes any uncontrolled growth of cells of the skin or associated structures such as glands, hair follicles and supportive tissues (fat and connective tissue). Metastasis (spread) to the skin from tumors elsewhere in the body can occur but these are not considered skin tumors because they did not start in the skin.
The skin is the second most common site of cancer in the cat. Skin tumors in cats are more likely to be malignant than those in dogs. Skin cancer frequently occurs in cats that are middle-aged to older (six to 14 years of age), although there are several types of skin cancers that occur in young cats. There are no breeds of cats that are more commonly affected with skin tumors than others.
The cause of the majority of skin cancers is unknown. Exposure to the sun has been shown to cause a higher incidence of two types of skin cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and hemangioma. Cats that are white and live outdoors have a high incidence of squamous cell carcinoma, particularly in parts of the body that have a thin haircoat such as the ears, nose and eyelids. The feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) has also been linked to the development of squamous cell carcinoma in cats, although it is unclear what role the virus plays in the development of these tumors. There may be a genetic basis for the development of certain cancers.
Skin cancers can be divided into four different categories, depending upon the cell type that is involved. These categories are epithelial tumors, mesenchymal tumors, round cell tumors and melanomas.
In cats the most common tumors are basal cell tumors, squamous cell carcinoma, mast cell tumors and fibrosarcoma. Most skin cancers appear as a lump in or underneath the skin or as a sore that does not heal. Cats with skin cancer may experience discomfort or itchiness because of the cancer. This may cause them to chew or scratch at the affected area. With certain type of cancers there may also be redness to the skin or it may have a flaky appearance.
Diagnosis of Skin Cancer in Cats
Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize skin cancer and exclude other diseases. The ability to treat a skin cancer successfully depends upon the type of cancer and how advanced it is at the time of diagnosis. Tests that your veterinarian may wish to perform include:
Treatment of Skin Cancer in Cats
Treatment for skin cancer depends on the type of tumor that is present and how advanced the disease is at the time of diagnosis.
Home Care and Prevention
Examine your cat’s skin on a regular basis. If you note a new lump, a sore that does not appear to heal, or other changes in the skin seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
After surgery monitor the incision for redness, swelling or discharge. Alert your veterinarian if any of these signs are noted.
Avoid prolonged exposure of your cat to sunlight. This is particularly important if your cat has light colored skin. If you have a white cat that likes to sit in windowsills, ask your veterinarian whether you should consider placing a sunscreen on her ear tips.