Cancer in Pets – A Three Part Weekly Series (Pt. 1)


Today they have a better chance of being successfully treated thanks to advances in early recognition, diagnosis, and treatment. A three part weekly series.

There are many names used today to describe the abnormal growth of cells in pets. Terms like tumor, mass, nodule, growth, cancer, and neoplasia are all heard in the veterinary office and your physician’s office, but they actually all refer to different situations. Mass, nodule, and growth generally refer to a lump of tissue that is initially felt, or abnormal tissue that is seen on radiographs, CT scans, ultrasounds, or MRI’s. This is the term that is used before we actually have a diagnosis of what kind of abnormality is present. The terms neoplasia or tumor are used when we know the lump is due to the uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells in the body. Neoplasia can be benign or malignant. The benign neoplasm (benign tumor) often tend to grow slowly, displace without invading the surrounding body tissues, and do not spread throughout the body. Malignant neoplasms (malignant tumors) on the other hand can be unpredictable and grow at various rates (sometimes very rapidly) , invade the tissues around them, and spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.

Approximately one in four dogs will, at some stage of their life, develop benign or malignant neoplasia. Dogs get cancer at roughly the same incidence as humans, while there is less accurate information about the rate of cancer in cats. Unfortunately, the cause of most cancers in pets is not known, so prevention is difficult. A genetic predisposition to cancer is seen in certain breeds and in family lines. There is more and more evidence that secondhand smoke increases the risk of some cancers in dogs and cats. Half of all breast cancers in dogs and 85% of breast cancer in cats are malignant. The great news is that spaying female pets before 12 months greatly reduces this risk, with dogs and cats spayed before their first heat having an almost zero risk of breast cancer. Neutering males eliminates the chance of testicular cancer and greatly reduces the incidence of tumors that occur in the glands surrounding the anus and prostate cancer. Conversely, we are learning that neutering and spaying can increase the incidence of certain other cancers. Ongoing aggressive research in this area may bring new recommendations about the timing of neuter / spay in certain breeds. We will keep you informed.

Next week we’ll cover the signs of neoplasia in pets, and what steps are taken to get a diagnosis.

Pittsburgh Spay & Vaccination Clinic is a state-of-the-art, full-service suburban veterinary facility serving the Pittsburgh Area since 1980.. We offer diagnostic, medical, surgical, and dental care to dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and pocket pets in the Pittsburgh area.

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