The removal of tumors of all types and sizes is a broad topic:
Many of the masses that we vets remove are easy to see or feel on the surface of the body and are usually easy to remove.
But other mass removal surgeries are a major undertaking:
Some masses and cancers have a huge blood supply.
Some masses and tumors are easy to identify and separate from surrounding tissues and easy to tease out of the body, but sometimes it's very hard to tell what's cancer and what's normal tissue.
Some masses are fairly easy to peel off the surface of whatever organ they are attached to, but sometimes the tumor infiltrates the organ and the surgeon has to decide how much to cut out. After all, many organs are too vital to remove.
There's another problem:
Patients with masses tend to be older, and older patients are more likely to have additional problems, are less quick to heal, tend to have weak cardiovascular systems, and tend to be either over-weight or emaciated by their disease.
Pre-anesthetic testing for these patients, careful anesthetic choices and monitoring are more critical than in young patients.
Patients with cancer are more likely to be immune suppressed.
Another part of the equation: are we risking surgery for nothing if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body? To help rule out this possibility, your vet may want to biopsy area lymph nodes, get radiographs or ultra sound images.
Or send you to a veterinary specialty center for possible MRI or CAT Scan images.
And of course, your vet may recommend that you go to a specialist for a second opinion and for the surgery; it's a rare general practioner who routinely does tumor removal from the chest, spine, or brain.
More things to consider:
Sometimes the recovery is more involved than the actual surgery what with daily management of wound drains, post op nausea, and so forth.
Then there's the question of whether or not we were successful in removing all the cancer. Usually there are microscopic remains of the cancer a little distance from the visible tumor. To be certain, biopsies of the surrounding tissue need to be sent off to the pathology lab.
Sometimes multiple surgeries are needed.
Another big complication involves bleeding. Some tumors are highly vascular and a lot of time is needed to get bleeding under control. In such cases, recovery is complicated from blood loss and long anesthetic time.
Mammary tumors are often very vascular as well as spread out.
Some cancers seem to like to grow in some pretty inconvenient places. It's no big deal to peel a little mass out from under the skin, but sometimes the masses go deep into the nose, jaw, eye, ear canals, throat, anus, eyelids, and genitals.
And finally, it's becoming more and more common to combine surgical reduction of cancers with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
The success rate for treating various types of cancer has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Don't be too quick to give up on your pet friend just because the diagnosis is cancer.
There's lot more general information about cancer in cats and dogs on our cancer page.
As for what to expect in terms of the surgery itself, please read the general considerations involved in any surgery on our introductory page about surgery if you haven't already. Whether or not the surgery is relatively routine and minor or a major undertaking will depend on where and what type of cancer is causing the problem.
Whether or not you have your local vet simply remove the obvious mass to make your pet more comfortable or you have your pet referred to specialists expert in cancer (Oncology) surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy will depend on how aggressive you're willing to be in your efforts to save your pet. Other factors include quality of life issues, the logistics of taking your pet to a distant city, the side effects of treatment, other diseases the patient may have, and the prognosis for the different types of cancers.
"What To Expect When You Go To The Vet"
if your pet should have a problem with ...
To include Femoral Head Removal, Hip Dysplasia, Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries, Panosteitis, Radiographic Demonstrations, Disc Disease, and Bone Surgery
Strokes, Vascular Diseases, Anemias, DVT, DIC, Blood Parasites, Rat Poison, & Bleeding disorders
Cardiology Heart disease in Cats, Cardiac Hypertrophy, Valvular disease, Cardiac Insufficiency, Congestive Heart Failure, Heartworm Disease, and a little history about the milestones in treating heart disease Cats: general information page and directory of diseases and problems specific to cats including vaccine recommendations, leukemia, feline viral infections, feline upper respiratory disease and cats that just aren't feeling well. Dermatology: Skin problems including allergies, rashes, bacterial infections, and itching. Hair Loss, Yeast Infections, Hormonal Problems Heart disease; Cardiac diseases, vascular diseases, stroke, & heartworms Hormone Diseases: Diabetes, Thyroid Disease, Cushing's Disease or Hypercortisolism, Addison's disease or Hypocortisolism, Pancreatitis, obesity as a disease Infectious Diseases Colds, Distemper, Parvo, Leptospirosis, Bruceellosis, Panleukopenia, Feline AIDS, Leukemia, Hepatitis, Kennel Cough, Ringworm, Rabies, FIP, Canine Herpes, Toxic Shock Syndrome, & More Intestinal problems: diarrhea, constipation, torsion, indigestion, and gas. Also pancreatitis, vomiting, esophagitis, colitis, parvo and other types of dysentery Metabolic Diseases: Diabetes, Thyroid Disease, Cushing's Disease or Hypercortisolism, Addison's disease or Hypocortisolism, Pancreatitis, obesity as a disease Parasite Problems Fleas, Ticks, Heartworms, Intestinal Worms, Mosquitos, Lice, Mites, and other welfare recipients Poisons Snakes, Insects, household chemicals, plants, and foods that might poison your pet Skeletal-Muscular Problems Arthritis, Fractures, ACL, Ligament Injuries, Disc Disease, Pannus, and many other problems of the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments Skin Problems: allergies, rashes, bacterial infections, and itching. Hair Loss, Yeast Infections, Hormonal Problems Surgery: Spays, Castrations, Testicle Recipes, Soft Tissue Surgery, Hard Tissue Surgery (Bones), C- Sections, Declawing, Tumor Removal and Cancer Surgery
Other Topics on This Site
Zoonotics: Diseases, worms, and parasites people get from pets.
Includes information about Prescription diets used to treat disease, and a discussion about the pet food industry
Includes information about feline and canine heat or estrus, breeding, C-Sections, pyometra or Infected Uterus, dystocia, no milk, mastitis, & brucellosis
Also newborn care, undescended testicles, and alternative to spaying and castration
WildLife Page: Taking care of baby bunnies, squirrels, and birds. A very funny story about beavers, and other misc information Our Dog Page: a directory of problems of concern in dogs including parvovirus, distemper, canine herpes, and other diseases