FAQ - My Pet and Cancer

What should I do if I find a lump on my pet?

Not all lumps and bumps turn out to be tumours, but it is important to ask your vet to have a look at it when you first notice one, to make a diagnosis.

Your veterinary surgeon will perform a physical examination and may carry out laboratory tests, imaging studies and/or recommend a biopsy or fine needle aspirate.

In most cases, a biopsy is the only way to know for certain whether cancer is present. During a biopsy, the veterinary surgeon removes a small sample of tissue from the abnormal area. A pathologist then studies the tissue under a microscope to identify cancer cells.

There are many different types of tumours and the treatment for each can differ. To ensure the most effective treatment is given and to get an idea of the likely outcome an accurate diagnosis is needed to determine the exact nature of the lump or tumour.

“Let’s wait and see” is not a good option in most cases as it is much easier to remove a small mass that is detected early. In many cases, complete surgical removal of a mass can be curative.

Why is early diagnosis important?

There are many different types of tumours and the treatment for each can differ.

An early accurate diagnosis gives the best chance for appropriate treatment early on, before the disease progresses or spreads. A small tumour, even a malignant one (cancer), is more likely to be cured if it is treated early.

A wait-and-see approach is best avoided as most tumours do not disappear and will continue to grow.

If this approach is considered, it is important to measure all dimensions of a lump and monitor it carefully for any changes. A set of callipers can be used to accurately measure the size of a lump.

To ensure the most effective treatment is given and to get an idea of the likely outcome, a biopsy or fine needle aspirate will be needed. In most cases, a biopsy is the only way to know for certain whether cancer is present.

During a biopsy, the veterinary surgeon surgically removes a small sample of tissue from the abnormal area. A pathologist then studies the tissue under a microscope to identify cancer cells.

What are the clinical signs of cancer in pets?

Clinical signs of cancer are often vague and non-specific; however, many animals can also seem to be perfectly well.

The most common signs include:

  • Abnormal swelling or lump that grows
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Loss of appetite or increased drinking
  • Offensive breath
  • Unexplained loss of weight
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Persistent lameness or stiffness
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
  • Breathlessness or loss of stamina
  • Bleeding or discharge

 

These signs may also occur in other non-cancer conditions such as inflammation, infection, benign growths or other problems.

It is important to take your pet to see a veterinary surgeon to obtain a diagnosis.

How do tumours affect animals?

This depends upon where the tumour is and what type it is. When small, many tumours do not cause a problem and it may be only when the tumour is large that it has an effect on an animal.

There are many different types of tumours and each behaves in a slightly different way. It is therefore important to have a sample of the tumour sent for examination by a specially trained veterinary pathologist at an external laboratory.

Does cancer always cause pain?

Having cancer does not always mean having pain. Whether a patient has pain may depend on the type of cancer, the extent of the disease and the pet’s tolerance for pain.

Most pain occurs when the cancer grows and presses against bones, organs, or nerves. Pain may also be a side effect of treatment. However, pain can generally be relieved or reduced with prescription medicines recommended by your veterinary surgeon.