Your dog is 35 times more likely to suffer skin cancer than you are, four times as likely to develop a breast tumor, eight times as likely to suffer bone cancer, and twice as likely to develop leukemia.
(Texas A&M Veterinary School)
I hope you aren't reading this page because your pet is in serious trouble. If so, you have my sympathy and prayers.
What To Expect If You Go To The Vet
With a Pet Having Lumps, Masses,
Or Other Types Of Cancer
(your vet may do things differently)
A Good Exam & History: When people bring in a sick pet to the vet, cancer is often not suspected. Cancer is not detected until blood work, radiographs, or ultrasound is done.
Other times your pet has obvious lumps, bumps, non healing lesions, or obvious masses, and that's why you brought your pet into the vet.
If your pet does have masses on the outside of the body, your vet will be especially careful to note how long these masses have been there, have they gotten bigger or changed much over time, do they hurt and so forth.
Are the nearby lymph nodes enlarged.
Do they feel fluid filled or solid?
Is the mass mobile or firmly attached? Is it spherical or irregular in shape?
Are they just moles or warts or cysts?
Are they just fatty tumors which are fairly common in middle aged and older dogs?
Are they related to recent injections?
Are they related to skin inflammation or ingrown hairs?
Or are these lumps and bumps possibly cancer? And, if so, metastatic and malignant? or benign? These are the big questions that we will want to answer.
Often, an experienced veterinarian can assure you with great (but never perfect) accuracy on physical exam alone that a bump is not serious. Other times, it won't be obvious and testing will be appropriate.
If needed, here's what we'll recommend:
Diagnostics for lumps, and masses:
1. After cleaning and clipping hair if needed, we'll stick a small needle in the lump and see what comes out and look at the fluid if present under the microscope. This simple test will help confirm if the mass is just a fatty tumor, cyst, or abscess.
If the lump is a small abscess or cyst, we will often "lance" and express and hopefully cure the problem on the spot. This costs $0-15 depending on how much fun we have. Other times local or general anesthesia and minor surgery is needed to get the job done right and that's more expensive.
2. If no fluid comes out when we stick a needle into the lump or the lump is too big or deep to make a needle stick an appropriate test (an example are the chain of lumps found in breast tissue), or if the fluid is suspicious, then cytology and/or biopsy are appropriate.
Some vets do this in house; I send them to a lab. Since to get a biopsy involves anesthesia (unless very superficial), we often surgically remove the mass at the same time.
3. Radiographs are often appropriate and if your veterinarian has an UltraSound, he or she may want to use it to better define the mass, see if the mass involves the bone, and to see if there are internal masses not evident on external exam.
4. Blood work is not likely to be needed for the diagnosis of the lump or mass itself, but, remember that what you see on the outside may only be the tip of the iceberg. Internal organs, anemia, infection, hormone and electrolyte problems may also be present.
And if anesthesia and surgery is needed to remove a mass, then blood work is recommended or required to make sure anesthesia will be safe.
Diagnostic tests for other types of cancers:
For those pets without obvious tumors, we often become suspicious of cancer because of routine radiographs and blood work. Once cancer is suspected, your vet may recommend biopsy, endoscopy if available, ultrasound if available, Cat Scans or MRI if available... or referral to a specialist or major veterinary medical center.
Treatment Options for Lumps, bumps, cysts, and masses
A. We might decide to do nothing except monitor if we think the mass is one of the many typical benign masses we veterinarians see on a regular basis. $0-1,000 depending on how many times you ask me if I'm absolutely sure it's not cancer (just kidding about the cost...but not being sure is the problem with not doing lab work, isn't it?)
B. Simple lancing or removal under local anesthesia if small enough.
C. Anesthesia and Surgical removal. I do this the old fashioned way...with scalpel and scissors...other vets might use a surgical laser or even "freeze" the mass.
These methods sometimes have advantages but are generally more expensive.
D. Post op antibiotics and medications for pain and inflammation if needed
E. Recheck. Remember that masses can be unpredictable and recur.
Choices if the biopsy results are not benign:
A. Pray that I removed 100% of the mass (often unrealistic) and it won't come back or isn't already somewhere else in the body.
B. Make the patient comfortable and treat minor secondary problems and maximize the delay of major problems through aggressive nutritional support etc...sometimes there's a long time of quality life prior to eventual deteriation.
C. Referral to an oncologist. Great strides have been made in the treatment and control of some malignant cancers. Cancer therapy can be expensive and have unfortunate side effects and can often be futile, but not always, especially for certain types of cancer...so please give this option some thought.
D. Consider Alternative Medicine. Most of the alternative treatments being heavily promoted to the new age crowd I've tried with very poor results so be careful where you place your faith.
The incredible high tech equipment used to detect, image, and treat cancer that has become available in the last decade is mind blowing.
Just like in human medicine, more and more canine and feline patients are surviving many types of cancer ... patients that just a few years ago would have "to be put down".
Most general practice vets like myself remove tumors, lumps, and various masses on a daily basis, often with great success. And we're well experienced in palliative or hospice care... making pets feel comfortable until the disease makes the pet unable to function.
But if your pet has a serious type of cancer ... in a particularly vital area of the body... or aggressive... or in the thoracic or abdominal cavity ... or in the lymph nodes... or in the eyes, mouth or nose; your local vet will likely recommend referral to a specialist.
Unfortunately, sophisticated cancer therapy using MRI imaging, chemotherapy, and modern radiation therapy will cost at least several thousand dollars .... but the chance for a successful outcome is getting better and better.
The specialist will be very honest with you on what your treatment options are and what you might expect for your pet's situation.
Take advantage of their expertise, experience, and equipment. At the very least, go to the initial visit to discuss what your options are... I bet you'll be impressed.