Pet Cancer: Why You Shouldn't Automatically Think the Worst

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If you happen to find a lump on your pet, it can be a panic-provoking moment. But even if the bump that you thought was a simple pimple turns out to be a malignancy, chances are that it can be effectively treated.

Successful treatment of skin cancer in pets involves a biopsy to determine the exact type of tumor and, in most cases, surgery to remove the tumor, as well as possible follow-up chemotherapy or radiation therapy. For tumors that are difficult to manage, your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist trained in veterinary oncology, radiation or surgery.

Here's a look at some common cancers found in dogs and cats, and the expected courses of treatment — plus what you can do to be a proactive pet parent.

Mom Was Right: Grades Do Matter

All malignancies are not the same — even if they have the same name.

Take, for example, the most common malignant skin tumor found in dogs: the mast cell tumor. These tumors can range from relatively benign to white-hot malignant. When pathologists examine the biopsy sample under a microscope, they can predict the behavior of such tumors.

In nearly all dogs with a grade I mast cell tumor, surgical removal cures the dog. Dogs unlucky enough to have a grade III mast cell tumor usually need chemotherapy follow-up because they have a form of the disease that will most likely spread throughout the body. The treatment protocol for dogs diagnosed with a grade II mast cell tumor falls somewhere between grades I and III.

Soft Tissue Sarcomas Attack With Tentacles

Surgical excision is especially important for treating a group of skin tumors known as soft tissue sarcomas. These tumors arise from the cells of soft tissue structures, such as blood vessels, nerves, muscle, connective tissue and cartilage. The nature of soft tissue sarcomas is to send tentacles of malignant cells out into surrounding tissues.

If your pet undergoes surgery for the removal of a soft tissue sarcoma, the incision will be much larger than you likely expected, since a wide margin of normal-appearing tissue must be removed to excise every last tumor cell. If the biopsy indicates tumor cells were not completely removed, your veterinarian will likely recommend more surgery or radiation therapy.

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