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Cancer in Cats

cancer in cats

Overview

Like many human illnesses, cancer also appears in cats. Cancer is a group of abnormal cells that grow and reproduce without restraint, often damaging or destroying healthy cells. As in humans, cancer in cats can affect all parts of the body, though certain types of cancer are more common in cats. Early detection is critical to the likelihood of successful treatment, so pet owners should learn possible signs of cancer in cats and understand the basics of treatment options.

Is Cancer Common in Cats and What Kinds of Cancers Are More Common?

The rate of cancer among pets is similar to humans’ cancer rate, though cats on average get cancer slightly less frequently than humans. Though the exact rates of cancer in cats is not known, about a third of deaths are attributed to cancer and an estimated 6 million cats are diagnosed with cancer every year.

The most common cancers in cats include:

  • Lymphoma
  • Mammary tumors
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Fibrosarcoma

Feline lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system most often seen in the gastrointestinal tract, is the most frequently diagnosed among all types of feline cancer. Though cats of any age can get lymphoma, most affected animals are 10 to 12 years of age, with unvaccinated outdoor cats and cats routinely exposed to tobacco smoke at greater risk for gastrointestinal lymphoma.

Signs and Symptoms of Cancer in Cats

Cats are skilled at concealing their illness or pain, so detection often is delayed. Various changes in a cat’s behavior or appearance could indicate the presence of cancer. Some possible signs of cancer in cats could include:

  • Hiding or behavior change
  • Skin lumps or bumps
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Chronic weight loss or weight gain
  • Change in appetite
  • A persistent, dry cough
  • Difficulty breathing, eating or swallowing
  • Any lump that changes shape or size
  • Change in bowel or bladder habits
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Unexplained bleeding or discharge from body
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sudden abdominal swelling
  • Unexplained bad breath or other odor
  • Lowered stamina
  • Recurrent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Lack of interest in physical activities
  • Indications of physical discomfort, such as lameness or stiffness

Possible Causes of Feline Cancer

The exact cause of a cat’s cancer usually cannot be known; however, certain factors are known to increase the chances of developing cancer. Many risk factors for cancer in humans are similar to those for cancer in cats. Contributing factors that have been linked to an increased risk of feline cancer development include frequent exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, asbestos, prolonged sunlight exposure, and lack of exercise.

Cats that have feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or have been exposed to the virus also are at significantly higher risks of developing cancer. FeLV is the most common cause of cancer in cats.

Treatments for Cancer in Cats, Costs of Treatment, and Success Rate

Treatment options for cancer in cats vary greatly, depending on the cancer’s location, stage of the cat cancer, overall health of the cat, and other mitigating factors. The cat’s veterinarian or a feline oncologist will determine the recommended course of treatment. Conventional cat cancer treatments may involve:

  • Oral medication
  • Intravenous chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery to reduce or remove the tumor
  • Pain management

Additional complementary treatments might include acupuncture, immunotherapy, or nutritional therapy.

The cost of treatment varies by region and veterinary practice, but costs for treatment by an oncology specialist likely would range from $500 to $1,000 for initial diagnostic testing. Surgical treatments typically range from $800 to $2,000, chemotherapy costs between $2,000 and $3,000, and radiation might cost up to $6,000.

Overall the survival rate for cats with cancer probably is less than 50 percent. However, an individual cat’s chance of cure from cancer is difficult to pinpoint, since there are so many types of cancers and so many different variables. Chances for surviving cancer depend significantly on the type of tumor, when the cancer is found, and how the cancer is treated.

Can Cancer in Cats Be Prevented?

Though cancer cannot be prevented entirely, the likelihood of developing cancer can be minimized. Spaying female cats drastically reduces the chance she will develop mammary cancer. Vaccinating cats to prevent feline leukemia decreases the likelihood of getting lymphoma. Cats should not be exposed to environmental toxins like second-hand tobacco smoke or asbestos. Their exposure to ultraviolet sunlight should be minimized to prevent skin cancers. Maintaining good overall health through adequate exercise and proper nutrition also reduce the chances of cancer in cats.

 

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