Is that Lump on Your Dog Cancer? Is the Bump on Your Kitty Cancer?
Guest Blog Post by Dr. Sue, the Pet Cancer Vet
Dr. Sue Ettinger is the Pet Cancer Vet, and she wants your vet to check every lump on your dog! She co-hosts THE PET CANCER VET on the Radio Pet Lady Network where she and Tracie often discuss the idea that you need to treat every lump as though it might be cancer until proven otherwise. Dr. Sue’s motto is “Live longer, live well.” Get a diagnosis with a needle (aspirate) of any lump on your pet, whether it is squishy or hard, or whether it moves around it feels fixed in place. Visual monitoring is not enough! If the mass is the size of a pea and has been there for a month, see your vet for diagnostics. Here is her advice about lumps and bumps:
I’m on a mission to create guidelines, diagnose tumors earlier, and get the word out that cancer is a treatable disease, but you have to be proactive. I call it: “See Something, Do Something.”
I am a huge advocate of aspirating every lump and bump on your dog or cat, even though many turn out to be benign cysts or lipomas (fatty tumors). The problem is there are no guidelines for vets or pet guardians for when they should aspirate or biopsy a mass. Some people think it’s okay to just wait and “monitor” a lump — watch it grow, basically — when in fact we really need to collect some cells and send them to the lab to rule out cancer.
I’ve seen too many masses “monitored” for too long: keeping an eye on a tumor means people are waiting and watching cancer grow! As tumors get larger, they can spread internally and will require more treatment to deal with — it will require a larger, more aggressive surgery, sometimes more than one surgery to remove residual cancer cells, radiation after surgery, and maybe chemotherapy. This means more cost to the owner, more aggressive treatments that the pets have to endure, and often a worse prognosis.
But if we do an aspirate (take a sample with a needle through the skin, no anesthesia required) it allows us to diagnose these tumors early. We may be able to cure the cancer with one surgery, even for malignant tumors. Whenever there’s a lump or bump on the surface or just under your pet’s skin that you can feel, you should get it aspirated.
What Is a Needle Aspirate?
An aspirate is a really simple screening test for many types of cancer. A very thin needle is put into the lump (without pain so you don’t need anesthesia) and the cells inside are drawn up into the syringe. The veterinarian or a lab can take a look under the microscope and see what was in there. If something questionable turns up, you can move quickly to surgically remove the lump. Keep in mind that larger masses are more difficult to remove.
On the other hand, benign masses may not need to be removed immediately. Location of the mass in your pet’s body should be considered. Will an increase in growth in this location prevent successful surgery? Is the mass causing pain, irritation, secondary bleeding or infection? You need to discuss surgery with your veterinarian.
Perhaps I would recommend surgically removing a benign lump in the future, at the same time as another procedure like dental work. However, I rarely recommend removing a lump if the aspirate was benign and small, because going under anesthesia has its own risks, too.
You and your primary care vet are on the front line of defending against cancer by keeping an eye out for lumps and bumps. Dogs usually come to me, the oncologist, after the aspirate or biopsy has been performed on a lump and they either already have a diagnosis of a cancer, or are suspicious about malignancy.
As an veterinary oncologist, my missions include:
- To educate that cancer in pets is often treatable
- To educate that cancer treatment is very well tolerated — including chemotherapy — and treated pets can live longer and live well.
- To tell people it’s important to see a specialist early — at the time of diagnosis — to learn about the cancer and its treatment options, even if you decide not to treat.
- To raise cancer awareness and promote early detection.
[For more information about cancer in pets and how to reach Dr. Sue Ettinger to make an appointment for a consultation, please visit her website DrSueCancerVet.com.]