Tumors are very common in animals, especially in the senior animal population.
According to researches, cancer is the cause of almost 50 per cent of death in pets over 10 years of age.
It is important to understand that not every tumor is cancerous.
Tumor definition is any abnormal growth of cells.
Tumors, sometimes referred to as vets-masses, can be either benign or malignant.
Benign neoplasms do not grow aggressively, do not invade the surrounding body tissues, and do not spread throughout the body.
Malignant neoplasms, on the other hand, tend to grow rapidly, invade the tissues around them, and may spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. Only malignant tumors are considered cancerous.
The diagnosis of tumors is done by pathological examination of the specific tissue involved.
The most common diagnostic procedures that are done by vets are either fine needle aspiration (FNA) or biopsy.
In fine needle aspiration, the veterinarian uses a needle and a syringe to obtain a sample of cells from the mass.
The advantage of this procedure is that it is fairly simple to perform.
In many cases this procedure does not require anesthesia, sedation or any other preparation, unless it is done on an internal organ.
The disadvantage of this method is that the results are not guaranteed as reliable.
A much better method of diagnosing the nature of the tumor is by obtaining a real biopsy of the tissue. This requires cutting a piece or the whole tumor out.
This procedure yields much more reliable results, but usually requires some sort of sedation or general anesthesia.
The sample that was obtained then gets sent to a special laboratory to be assessed by a pathologist.
The pathologist will determine the nature of the cells and if the tumor is benign or cancerous.
Cancer is a very broad term. Diagnosing a tumor as cancerous is just the first step in determining the severity of the condition and the prognosis of the pet.
Different cancer tumors have various levels of aggressiveness in terms of rate of growth and ability to metastasize and affect more organs. If the tumor is diagnosed as cancerous the veterinarian will likely recommend performing additional tests such as blood tests, x-rays or ultrasound to assess whether the tumor has spread.
Early detection is extremely important in managing most cancerous tumors.
In general, tumors can develop anywhere in the body. They can be external or internal.
External tumors are usually easier to detect and diagnose.
If you notice any lump or mass on your pet, take it to be checked by your veterinarian. External tumors may also appear as wounds that do not heal.
Internal tumors are harder to detect. Internal tumors usually manifest by symptoms related to the organ affected.
The most common symptoms that are associated with cancer in general are: decreased appetite and weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding or discharge from any body opening, persistent lameness or stiffness, difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating and, of course, any abnormal swelling or enlargement of a tissue.
Unfortunately the cause of most tumors is unknown, hence cannot be prevented.
Spaying your dog around six months of age can significantly reduce the chances of mammary tumors. Neutering males prevents testicular tumors as well.
Once a tumor is diagnosed as cancerous, the treatment depends on the type of the cancer, and the severity of the condition.
Each tumor is treated differently depending on its nature. In general, most commonly the treatment includes surgical excision of the mass if possible, and or chemotherapy.
Your pet’s overall health is important too, and your veterinarian may recommend dietary changes or other things to help your pet better respond to treatment.
Once you have a diagnosis, your veterinarian will discuss the best treatment options for your pet and the risks and side effects associated with each option.
Pain management is also recommended in many cases.
Unfortunately sometimes the condition is too advanced to attempt curative treatment, and measures will be taken only to try to improve the pet’s quality of life.
Early detection can be crucial in affecting the course of the disease and the prognosis of your pet. Please consult your veterinarian for more information on tumors and their best medical management.
Dr. Moshe Oz
operates the Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital in West Kelowna, 2476 Westlake Rd.