Cancer In Cats: Most Common Types, Symptoms And Treatments
The Four Most Common Cancers, What You Need to Know About Cancer In Cats
In this blog post we will focus on four types of the most common cancer found in cats. Awareness of these common cancers will empower you to know what to look for. Cancer caught early has the best outcome. The four most common cancers in cats are:
- Oral Squamous cell carcinoma
- Mammary cancer (carcinomas)
Lymphoma: The most common feline cancer
Since lymphocytes occur in all organs in the body, as well as lymph nodes, they can occur anywhere. Whereas it is more commonly seen in lymph nodes in dogs, this is not the case for cats, where it can be found in the gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow, lymphatic system, kidneys, liver, and nervous system.
Western medicine treatment of feline lymphoma
Treated cats with high-grade lymphomas live 6-9 months with traditional Western medicine treatment options (CHOP chemotherapy). Cats with prednisone alone have a 1-3 month survival time with prednisone alone. Talk to a veterinary oncologist about how cats tolerate chemotherapy.
Cats with less aggressive small cell lymphoma of the intestinal tract live longer (18-24 months) with traditional Western medicine (chlorambucil and prednisone). This tumor type is insidious in cats as it often presents with weight loss alone and pristine blood work.
I do not recommend commercially processed diets for cats with cancer. In human medicine we would never accept the recommendation to feed a highly processed diet to our loved one or ourselves, so why would we do this for our pets? I highly recommend feeding a diet that is canned or prepared with the highest quality, preferably organic ingredients. The Holistic Vet Blend Feline Senior Blend has added B vitamins and fiber for senior cats. It is easily prepared in less than 15 minutes.
What are signs of feline lymphoma in cats?
Signs of lymphoma in cats include gastrointestinal tract signs such as anorexia, weakness, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. Since lymphoma can affect both peripheral lymph nodes and virtually any organ in the body, signs may also relate to the internal organs involved (for example, kidneys. liver, or nervous system).
Cats with feline leukemia virus have a greater chance of developing lymphoma in their lymph nodes or gastrointestinal tract.
Squamous cell carcinomas in cats
When we think of squamous cells in humans, we think of skin cancer cells. But in cats, this is the most common type of malignant tumor, and it is found in a cat's mouth. Oral tumors in cats often go undetected until they become very large, and cats begin to have difficulty eating, not grooming, and become debilitated quickly.
Unfortunately, by the time these oral cavity tumors are noted they are usually too large to remove and have metastasized to regional lymph nodes.. Western treatment options do not prolong a cat's life and most cats will live only 1-3 months by the time it is diagnosed, with 10% of cats living a year after diagnosis.
These cats more likely had their cancer found earlier on the exam, or an astute owner noted something amiss when a cat was eating, or perhaps they noticed weight loss and had their cat checked sooner. This is why older cats should have a physical exam every 3-6 months depending on their age and circumstances.
Fibrosarcoma tumor in cat
Fibrosarcoma is also known as "vaccine sarcoma," as it often occurs at injection sites. It typically grows slowly and does not spread to lymph nodes, but is locally aggressive. This means that it sends tendrils of cancer cells deep into the underlying tissues making tumor removal virtually impossible.
Surgical removal followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy can give a cat more survival time as removal of the entire tumor is virtually impossible. Although surgical removal is effective, the tumor can still come back. Radiations and chemotherapies are, therefore, generally considered adjunctive therapies. In combination with therapies patients can be disease-free for between 1-2 years.
Symptoms of Feline Cancer
Although the symptoms of feline cancer will vary based on the type of tumor, the veterinary oncologists at Veterinarians are able to provide a thorough diagnostic procedure to help your cat live a longer and healthier life. The fact that cats hide symptoms of pain until they are well-developed can be helpful in identifying signs to monitor for. When you see these warning signs on the cat, call your local veterinarian for an evaluation immediately.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Cats
Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the most common oral tumor in cats. The most common symptom is difficulty eating.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCF) is the most common cancer of the teeth. Many cats have oral SCC, which may cause difficulty in consuming and drinking food. A few cat symptoms can suggest a dental issue, and SCC can be ruled out by diagnostics as a cause. SCC is diagnosed by a biopsy. Surgical treatments are often the best defense against SCC. Unfortunately, because cats are small and because they usually have large tumors, a curative procedure rarely happens in less than 20% of cases.
Mammary Tumors in Cats
Unlike dogs, most feline mammary cancers are malignant, which means they are aggressive cancers and susceptible to spreading in other parts. Common spread sites are the lymph nodes and lungs. Mammary tumors are the fourth most common cancer in cats and occur more in females, with less than 5% occurring in male cats.
Cats with mammary tumors usually have surgical removal of the mammary chain on the side of the tumor, as lumpectomy alone is not as effective at eradicating this aggressive cancer in cats, which has a high rate of metastasis. It's important to stage this cancer to determine the next steps in light-distant metastasis.
Traditional Western medicine chemotherapy has a survival time of 6 months to 2 years. The prognosis is better the earlier this cancer is detected, with smaller masses leading to a much better prognosis.
Treatment for cancer in cats
The prognosis for any cancer in cats is dependent on the condition of the cat at the time of diagnosis. A cat that is debilitated, not grooming/unkempt, lethargic from advanced disease, and has a poor appetite has decreased survival time. Treating a cat with supplements and any medications is typically harder when they will not eat, and these cats have a poorer prognosis.
It is important to meet with a veterinary oncologist to explore all treatment options. Some veterinary oncologists have expertise in holistic medical therapies such as acupuncture, Western and Eastern herbs, and supplements.
Early detection and prevention
Feline Tumor Risk Factors
Unlike dogs, a cat's physiology usually hides the clinical symptoms if it doesn't feel right. This may cause problems with the health of cats. Interestingly, the risk of cancer in cats has similar traits to those in humans. The use of smoking and asbestos has often been associated with increased cancer rates among dogs and cats. Keeping a cat indoors can help to prolong its lifespan. Indoor cats are about three times longer than outdoor cats.
I always recommend that pet owners with newly diagnosed tumors, especially malignant tumors, should ask their regular veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary oncologist. Just as in human medicine, there are specialists in pet cancer. They can help you choose the most appropriate treatment for your cat, be sure you have an accurate diagnosis, and give you options for your cat's tumor type. Symptoms Of Cancer In Cats
Skin tumors are often detected when pet owners are petting their cats. The most common worrisome cat tumor found when an owner is petting their cat is injection site fibrosarcomas. These are felt when petting at the site of a prior injection. Pet over the nape of the neck and along the thigh area. Use care, as many cats dislike being petted on the hind end.
Squamous cell carcinoma is found in the mouth, especially under the tongue. Have a look whenever you can for growths or dental disease, perhaps when you are brushing or checking their teeth.
Mammary tumors can be found on the ventral midline from the armpit area along the belly to the groin area.
Weight loss is often the only sign in cats with lymphoma in the gastrointestinal tract. Affected cats often have normal blood work and other diagnostic tests.
A benign cancer in cats is thyroid adenoma. These are found in the ventral neck area as a discrete pea-sized swelling along the trachea. Cats will lose weight and cry for food despite a voracious appetite.
Both FELV and the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus are more likely to cause cancer in affected cats than in healthy cats.
Cats spayed before their first heat cycle are less likely to develop mammary tumors.
Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinomas in Cats
- Trouble eating
- Weight loss
- Unkempt appearance as they are not grooming
Symptoms of Feline Mammary Carcinomas
- Lump in the mammary chain or surrounding lymph nodes in female cats, males are less susceptible
- Unspayed and cats spayed after their first heat should be more closely monitored for this type of cancer.
General Treatments for Cancer in Cats
Treatment of cats with cancer can be challenging if they cannot be easily medicated. It's the rare cat that does not mind taking oral medications regularly. Some ways to give oral treatment are:
- Pill pockets
- Crushing medication in food (some medications can be flavored by a compounding pharmacy)
- Crush medication and add to tuna juice and give by syringe
- Hide in butter or coconut oil (some can be frozen in a bit of butter and may be easier to handle)
- Put supplement tincture on their paw, and they may lick it off (hemp oil, for example)
Adding medication to food can be problematic as it may cause a cat to eat less or refuse to eat their food. Closely monitor that your cat does not go off of their food because of this.
Consider adding acupuncture for stimulating appetite, pain, and immune support.
Medicinal mushrooms, herbal therapies, high-dose vitamin C, and ozone therapy are some options to explore with the help of a holistic veterinarian.
Do No Harm: With cats, less is more
I always tell pet owners who come to me with a pet that has cancer that they do not ask a lot of us in their life, so it's not always in their best interest to submit them to invasive treatments at the end of their life, especially if they are not good patients at the veterinarian. If they are hiding after medication and frequent veterinary oncologist visits, maybe it's time to question who the treatments are actually benefitting.
Reducing risk factors for feline cancers
Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners noted patterns associated with disease thousands of years ago. We can explain certain cancer risks associated with the following factors.
Internal factors include a weakened immune system or Wei Qi and deficient Zheng Qi, which is............ Another important internal factor is that persistent stress causes an increased risk of cancer.
External factors that affect cats include chronic inflammation, poor diet, viruses (feline leukemia virus and FIV), toxins, ultraviolet radiation, secondhand smoke, and exposure to pesticides and herbicides.
Cancer prevention in cats
Ancient wisdom holds true today. A healthy, minimally processed, species-appropriate diet for a strict carnivore is the cornerstone for health. A strong immune system and a healthy, stress-free environment free of preservatives, pesticides, and toxins are also important. Lastly, there is the genetic predisposition to cancer which can be influenced by all of the above factors. And, of course, there is the aging process, so we must be extra vigilant in monitoring our older cats.
Minimizing toxins such as secondhand smoke, ultraviolet radiation, pesticides, and not over-vaccinating cats are good choices to prevent cancer development in us, and this also holds true for our pets.
Early detection of cancer in cats
Cats over 8 years of age are more likely to develop cancer or chronic disease. These senior cats should be monitored more frequently by your veterinarian, and you should pay closer attention to their appetite, weight, and activity. By intervening sooner, there is less likelihood of a tumor spreading.
Why a cancer diagnosis poses a treatment challenge for many cats
As a general practice veterinarian or veterinary oncologist can attest to, most cats pose a challenge in treatment as they tend to mask their cancer until it is quite advanced. By that time, their appetite is usually diminished, and this makes it especially hard to administer any form of treatment, be it supplements or medications.
Although it is possible to administer fluids and supportive care to our feline friends, there are an equal number that head for the hills or get quite agitated to the point of aggression when it comes to administering any form of treatment.
Holistic medicine support for cancer in cats
Acupuncture in cats can be used for pain, stimulating appetite, alleviating side effects, and supporting the immune system. Certain points even stimulate the WBC production and count. Cats are surprisingly accepting of acupuncture.
Don't Throw the Kitchen Sink at Any Cat With Cancer!
While it's tempting to do everything you can for your beloved cat with feline cancer, it's very important not to start numerous supplements upon a diagnosis, especially if the cat is not eating well.
If a cat is eating well, integrate supplements gradually (over weeks versus days). Of course, if your veterinarian recommends needed medications, you should take their direction. Just be sure to report back if your cat is experiencing negative side effects or gastrointestinal upset and decreased appetite. Cats can become very sick and develop hepatic lipidosis if they are not eating, so be sure to see your vet right away if your cat is not eating (even one day).