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Cancer in Cats

cat eating

If you haven’t thought about the possibility of cancer in pets (and I know that no one wants to consider that), it may be time to think about. I’m not a fatalist (contrary to some of my posts). I do, however, believe in being proactive. That’s why it’s important to learn how to identify symptoms of cancer in pets.

This week, we learned that one of our beloved cats, who we affectionately refer to as “The Cog” (short for the “Cat Who Thinks She’s A Dog“), may have (likely has) cancer.

Kyra is about 16-17 years old. Not ancient, by any means, but old enough to start thinking about things like Feline Dementia and other aging illnesses (especially dental disease).

Now we have to figure out this cancer probability.

cheiss-kyra at PetsWeekly

If you’ve been a reader for any length of time, you already know her. She adores her dogs, her best friend Cassie, and sleeping on our heads at night.

We lost her best friend, Cheiss last year. And today, we have to face the fact that Kyra may not be with us much longer.

Cancer kills. We all know this. But did you know it’s the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of 10, and nearly one in five cats are diagnosed with this disease.


This is a cancer of the lymphocytes, which is connected to feline leukemia – since cats are now being vaccinated more frequently, this form of cancer is becoming less common.  

How Common Is It?

Lymphoma is the most common type of cancers found in cats (representing nearly 50-70% of feline lymphoma cases).

  • Prognosis:Good. Fewer than 10% of cats will live for a year.
  • Breeds Most Susceptible: Persians, bengals, siamese
  • Age Most Susceptible: 10-12 years. But it can strike at any time.
  • Treatment: Chemotherapy. Depending on the type of lymphoma and with treatment, approximately 70% of cats with low-grade lymphoma will go into remission for 2-3 years.Only 25-50% of cats with high-grade lymphoma reach remission with treatment.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is a disease of the skin and usually is seen as lumps and bumps.

Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma is one of the most common cancers found in cats. It is generally found in the mouth and toes (nail beds). Early detection is key.

How Common Is It?

Skin tumors, in general, are the second most common type of feline cancer,
according to Margaret McEntee, DVM, an associate professor of oncology at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In fact, this form of cancer is exceeded only by lymphoma. Among skin cancers, SCC ranks fourth — after basal cell tumors, mast cell cancer and fibrosarcoma.

  • Prognosis: Very poor. Fewer than 10% of cats will live for a year.
  • Breeds Most Susceptible: Siamese
  • Age Most Susceptible: 10-12 years
  • Treatment: Since this is such an aggressive disease, it does not respond well to radiation or chemotherapy.  Most cats are euthanized within 1-3 months of diagnosed due to their inability to eat or drink and poor quality of life.

Mast Cell Tumor

There are two types of Mast cells tumors: those that affect the skin (cutaneous) and those that impact internal organs (visceral). Skin mast cells create small tumors or cysts that generally begin along the head and neck. They’re small, firm, and itchy – which is why they tend to erupt when the cat scratches herself.

Visceral tumors impact the intestine and spleen. You might notice your cat is more lethargic, has stopped eating (or slowed their eating), and experienced weight loss.

How Common Is It?

  • This depends primarily on the type of mast cell.
    • Cutaneous: Positive. Cats with cutaneous mast cells tend to do well with surgical treatment if caught early.
    • Visceral: Very poor. Unfortunately, those with visceral cell tumors have a positive outcome.Prognosis:
  • Breeds Most Susceptible: Siamese
  • Age Most Susceptible: 2 – 10 years
  • Treatment:
    • Cutaneous: biopsy and surgical removal.
    • Visceral: Surgery for removal of spleen, but no single chemotherapeutic protocol has shown to be effective

Bone Cancer (Multiple Myeloma)

Bone Cancer is a very aggressive condition that results from a clonal population of malignant plasma cells in bone marrow.

How Common Is It?

Fortunately, this type of cancer does not occur often in cats. In order to be qualified as multiple myeloma, 3 of 4 conditions must be present. PetMD list these as:

  • immune protein from a single clone of cells (known as a monoclonal gammopathy), seen as a spike in the gamma region of a protein analysis of the blood (known as a protein electrophoresis)
  • cancerous plasma cells or a high number of plasma cells in the bone marrow (known as plasmacytosis)
  • destruction of areas of bone (known as lytic bone lesions)
  • a particular type of protein found in the urine (known as Bence Jones [light-chain] proteinuria).
  • Prognosis: Guarded. Survival times that respond to treatment (chemotherapy) can often live 18-24 months (and in some cases, longer). It’s important to catch and treat this early.
  • Breeds Most Susceptible: None listed
  • Age Most Susceptible: 6-13 years
  • Treatment: is focused on reducing the number of cancer cells and decreasing the amount of globulins in the blood. Primarily, chemotherapy is the preferred method of treatment.

Prevention of Cancer

Sadly there’s no real way to prevent cancer in cats (or any other entity). There are genetic factors at play, and sometimes just bad luck. What you can do is make sure your pet is fed a healthy diet, gets plenty of exercise and as much love as you can provide.

I hope you never have to deal with cancer in your family – human or animal. But, if you do, please remember that you’re not alone. There are many resources available for people and pets that can help mitigate pain, improve recovery rates, and even help prevent this deadly disease.


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