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Cancer in Cats

Updated: May 1


An elderly cat with cancer, with their owner.

Cat cancer is a concern that many pet owners face, especially as their cats age. Unfortunately, as many as 1 in 5 cats will develop cancer in their lifetime


While the thought of cancer is daunting, advancements in veterinary medicine have improved the diagnosis and treatment of this disease, offering hope and options to cat owners. 


In this blog, we'll delve into the essentials of cat cancer, including its symptoms, causes, and treatment options, providing valuable insights for those caring for a cat with cancer.


In This Blog:

Cancer in Cats?

Cancer in cats involves the uncontrolled growth of cells that disrupt normal body functions. The word cancer can also be used interchangeably with neoplasia, a term some vets will use. These growths, or tumours, can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).


Benign tumours remain localised and don't spread to other parts of the body, whereas malignant tumours can invade nearby tissues and organs, posing a more significant health threat.


Types of Cancer in Cats

Cats are susceptible to various forms of cancer, with some types being more common than others. Some examples include:

  • Lymphoma: One of the most common forms of cancer in cats, lymphoma impacts the lymphocytes within the lymphoid tissue found all over the body. It commonly affects the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, and lymph nodes.

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): This is the most common skin tumour in cats, characterised by rapid growth. It often requires immediate attention.

  • Mammary Tumours: These aggressive tumours develop in the tissue around a cat's teat, typically spreading to nearby lymph nodes and lungs.

  • Mastocytoma: Also known as mast cell tumours, these originate from mast cells. While they can develop anywhere in the body, they are most frequently found in the skin or spleen.

  • Fibrosarcoma: This cancer affects the soft tissues, including muscles and connective tissue, and can be locally aggressive despite its slow spread.

  • Osteosarcoma: A painful and aggressive form of bone cancer that compromises the cat's skeleton.

  • Leiomyosarcoma: A rare, painful cancer affecting the muscles in the stomach and intestines, known for being a type of soft tissue sarcoma.

  • Ceruminous Gland Adenocarcinoma: Originating in the sweat glands, this type of cancer typically occurs in the ear canal.

  • Melanoma: These tumours can appear as isolated, raised masses that may bleed and can affect various parts of the body, including the mouth, skin, and eyes.

  • Myeloproliferative Neoplasm: A blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow, affecting the production of blood cells.

  • Hemangiosarcoma: Originating from blood vessel cells, this fast-growing tumour can lead to internal bleeding.

  • Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC): A tumour that develops in the bladder, known for being locally aggressive.


Causes of Cat Cancer: Is Prevention Possible?

Several factors may increase the risk of cancer in cats. Exposure to sunlight can put white cats at higher risk for skin cancer, while certain viruses like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) are linked to an increased cancer risk. Early spaying of female cats significantly reduces the likelihood of mammary (breast) cancer, highlighting the importance of preventive care.


Recognising Cat Cancer Symptoms

Cat cancer can manifest in various ways, depending on the affected body part or system. It's crucial to remember that many cancer symptoms can also signal other health issues, so a veterinary diagnosis is essential. Key symptoms to watch for include:


  • Unexplained lumps or growths

  • Non-healing sores

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

  • Lethargy and weakness

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Limping

  • Recurrent digestive problems


If you observe any of these cat cancer symptoms, it's important to consult your vet promptly.


Diagnosing and Staging Cat Cancer

Diagnosing cancer in cats may involve a combination of physical examinations, blood tests, imaging (such as X-rays and MRI scans), and biopsies. These diagnostic tools not only help confirm the presence of cancer but also assist in "staging" the disease, which determines how far the cancer has spread. This information is crucial for planning the most effective cat cancer treatment strategy.


Cat Cancer Treatment Options

Treatment for cat cancer varies based on the type and stage of the disease, as well as the overall health of the cat. The main treatment modalities include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, with newer options like photodynamic therapy and immunotherapy also available in some cases.


Surgery

Surgery is often the first line of treatment for tumours that can be removed without causing significant harm to the cat. 


It's particularly common for skin tumours or isolated lumps that have not spread.


Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy aims to slow down or stop the growth of cancer cells and is used for various types of cancer in cats. 


Veterinary chemotherapy typically involves fewer side effects than human chemotherapy, focusing on maintaining quality of life.


Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is available at specialist centres and can be an option for certain types of cancer. 


It requires precise delivery and general anaesthesia to keep the cat still during treatment.


Is Treatment the Right Choice?

Deciding on treatment involves considering the cat's quality of life, the potential benefits and side effects of the treatment, and the overall prognosis. 


Vets prioritise pain management and quality of life in their treatment plans. In cases where cancer is incurable and the cat is suffering, euthanasia may be considered to prevent further pain.


Prognosis: How Long Can a Cat with Cancer Live?

The prognosis for a cat with cancer depends on the cancer type, how advanced it is at diagnosis, and how well it responds to treatment. While some cats may live for years with proper management, others may have a more limited time. Open and honest communication with your vet is key to understanding your cat's prognosis and making informed decisions about their care.


Understanding cat cancer is the first step in navigating the challenging journey of caring for a pet with this disease. By recognising the symptoms early, seeking prompt veterinary care, and exploring the available treatment options, you can make informed decisions that enhance your cat's quality of life. Remember, each cat's situation is unique, and the support of a compassionate veterinary team can make all the difference in managing cat cancer.


If you feel your cat's quality of life is significantly impaired and are based in our service area, contact our team via 0800 049 5944 or request an appointment.



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