Finding lumps and bumps in our pets can be worrying. Throughout this article we will provide you with everything you need to know should you find a lump on your pet’s body. We are here for you and your pets and together, we can help them live happier, healthier lives. We will go over the basics of how to spot early signs, what treatments are available and what they entail.
What causes cancer?
Mutations in DNA will lead to abnormalities in cell behaviour. An example of abnormal cell behaviour may mean that a cell grows and divides too quickly or fails to stop uncontrolled growth. Some causes of cancer are known, such as inherited genetic mutations, exposure to certain viruses, chemical substances, or lengthy periods exposed to sunlight. However, in most cases, the cause of cancer remains unknown.
Are all lumps and bumps cancerous?
Medical professionals use the terms malignant and benign to classify lumps, bumps or growths.
Benign tumours (non-cancerous)
Benign tumours mean that the cells are not cancerous; these cells will not invade other tissues or spread to other parts of the body. Some benign tumours or growths can be left and monitored closely. However, your veterinary surgeon may discuss surgery depending on where the tumour is located and how quickly it grows. Lipomas, for example, are common benign (non-cancerous) growths that can sometimes require surgery when they grow too large. They may also advise surgical removal to eliminate the risk of the tumour becoming cancerous (malignant) in the future.
Malignant means that the tumour is made up of cancerous cells. These cells can invade other tissues and spread to other parts of the body. Often diagnosis of these malignant (cancerous) lumps or bumps early means they are simpler to treat; this is because the tumour may be smaller and the cancer may not have spread to other areas in the body. If the cancer is in multiple areas, it is more difficult to treat.
An easy way to remember the difference between benign and malignant: the word ‘no’ in the German language is ‘Nein’, which sounds very similar to the suffix of benign – meaning ‘not cancerous.
The most common cancers that are seen in veterinary practice include:
• mammary cancer;
• lipomas (fatty tumours);
• mast cell tumours;
• carcinomas (affecting internal organs);
• mast cell tumours; and
• osteosarcoma (bone cancer).
There are some less worrying but common growths that are seen, these include:
• sebaceous cysts;
• warts; and
The most common areas for growths to be found include
• mammary glands;
• blood; and
• anal glands (dogs).
As veterinary professionals, we advise you to make checking your pet for growths part of your usual grooming or brushing routine, or perhaps when you’re petting your animals after a long day at work. Remember, it’s always better to check.
How is cancer diagnosed?
Diagnosis involves assessing the abnormal cells; a fine needle aspirate (FNA) is usually performed initially. An FNA involves a very fine needle inserted into an area of abnormal-appearing tissue or body fluid. This can be done during a consultation and often can be quick if your pet is comfortable. However, if the area is sore or in a hard-to-reach space, your veterinary surgeon may advise on a small quick sedation to make it safe and stress-free.
These samples are sent to our partnered laboratories externally, where histopathology experts will assess and determine what type of growth we are dealing with. We will contact you with any results as soon as possible and these results can often take up to a week to arrive back with us.
Depending on the FNA results, a biopsy under general anaesthesia may be suggested or X-rays, a CT or MRI scan and ultrasound. These diagnostics can be used to detect evidence of a malignant tumour spreading. Blood tests may be taken to assess the patient’s general health and fitness for treatment, to look for other diseases, or, in some cases, to make a diagnosis of cancer.
What is the best way to check my pet for growths or lumps and bumps?
We advise starting at your pet’s head end and finishing at the back end. Do this at a time when you’re both relaxed and comfortable. If your pet turns away or wishes not to have this done, try breaking down the check into smaller checks. We suggest checking in the following order:
• ears (visually check the inside and outer ear followed by feeling with your hands for any changes);
• mouth (inside and out if your pet allows this);
• front legs;
• paws (don’t forget in-between the pads and toes);
• tummy (including the mammary glands);
• back legs;
• back paws (don’t forget in-between the pads and toes);
• anus; and
Our veterinary surgeons and nurses will examine the above when you have any standard consultation – checking at home allows you to pick up any changes sooner than your next visit with us. These checks are only visual – some cancers occur inside the body. Veterinary diagnostics would be required to detect these.
What if my pet has cancer?
There are three main treatments for cancer.
• Surgery: the surgical removal of the tumour cells
• Radiotherapy: the use of a strong X-ray beam to destroy cancer cells
• Chemotherapy: the use of anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells wherever they are in the body
The most appropriate treatment will depend on the nature, location and extent of the tumour. Also, the pet’s overall health and you as the owner’s expectations need to be considered before deciding on a treatment plan.
What is the outlook for cancer?
Many pets can be treated successfully and in some cases, they can be cured of their disease. We would always be able to help and improve the quality of life of a pet with cancer in some way.
We want to reassure you that we are here for you and your pet. Most pets, on average, visit us three times a year. Our vets will be assessing your pet and taking a history from you of how they have been since their last visit. Our veterinary surgeons are more than happy to put your mind at ease if you have found something abnormal on your pet during the consultation. If our team are concerned about your pet, they will explain the next steps in detail and answer any questions you may have.
If you would like more information on pet lumps and bumps, contact us today.