Cancer in cats

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Cancer in cats is the leading cause of death among older animals. It is caused by uncontrolled cell growth, and affects a wide range of cell types and organs in the body. Feline cancer initially manifests as a lump or bump on any parts of the body. It rapidly grows in the affected cell; attaches itself to the tissue under the skin in that area; and, depending on the tumour, it can spread to other parts of the body.[1] Although cancer accounts for approximately 32% of deaths in cats over ten years old, it can be successfully treated if diagnosed early.[2]

While the causes of cancer in cats are unknown, feline leukemia virus is suspected to be a prime contributor.[2] Other factors suspected to increase rates of feline cancer include toxins from the environment, second hand smoking, excessive grooming, or licking parts of the body that have been in contact with an environmental toxin.[2]

Cancer can be detected early on by observing for certain signs and symptoms. Common diagnosing methods include physical examination, x-rays, ultrasounds, cytology, blood tests, urine tests, and nuclear scans. Depending on the type of cancer and its level of progress, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy may be utilized to treat for cancer. Although research has been slow for causes and treatment of feline cancers, there have been advancements in radiation therapy, as well as newer and improved chemotherapy procedures.[2]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

Cancer in cats can occur in any location or body system,[3] and most symptoms can be detected externally.[2] While each type of cancer has its own distinctive symptoms, most indicate their presence by the occurrence and the prolonged presence of any common symptom.[1] Some of the general symptoms of cancer in cats are:[3]

  • Any lump that changes shape or size
  • Any sore that does not heal
  • Change in bowel or bladder habits
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Unexplained bleeding or discharge from body
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chronic weight loss
  • Coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Stiffness
  • Oral odor
  • Ravenous hunger.

Lymphoma and lymphosarcoma[edit]

Lymphoma is the most common form of cancer in cats, which is often associated with feline leukemia virus, and accounts for 25 percent of all cases.[3] Feline lymphoma usually strikes the digestive system, causing excessive vomiting and diarrhea.[4] Other common symptoms of lymphoma in cats include swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.[4]

Lymphoma and lymphosarcoma is common among cats with FeLV infections. It affects the intestines and other lymphatic tissues (commonly the abdominal organs). Cats with may be affected by a loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stool, and constipation.

Skin tumors[edit]

Skin tumors are less common in cats; and although most cats are vulnerable, white cats are especially prone to this type of tumor. Skin tumors manifests as a visible lump on the skin, mostly affecting vision, smell, or eating.[5] Benign tumors take several years to develop and are more difficult to detect due to their freely movable nature.[6] The only indicator of benign tumors is self-trauma of a form called lick granuloma or "boredom sores",[7] which can be caused by excessive licking by the cat.[6] This is a sign that the cat is suffering from anxiety.[8][9]

Mammary gland tumors[edit]

Mammary gland tumors are the third common type of cancer in older female cats, with the most common symptom manifesting as a lump in the breast tissue.[3] Domestic short-haired cats and Siamese appear to have a higher incident rates.[10] The tumor is typically firm and nodular, and adheres to the overlying skin.[11] Nipples may also appear to be red and swollen, oozing yellowish fluid.[11]

Abdominal tumor[edit]

Abdominal tumor is among the rarest forms of cancer in cats, and most difficult to treat successfully before progressing to an advanced stage.[12] The main symptoms include abdominal enlargement,[3] vomiting (often with blood), weight loss due to poor digestion, and weakness.[12]

Types of tumor[edit]

  • Adenomas affect sebaceous glands predominantly in the limbs, the eyelids and the head. They are also commonly-found in the ears (and ear canals) of cats and may lead to the development of hyperthyroidism. These adenomas typically appear as cauliflower, wart-like growths with a pink-orange tinge. They can be diagnosed either through their physical appearance or a biopsy testing.
  • Fibrosarcomas arise from the fibrous tissues just beneath the skin. They may be present as solitary, irregular masses on the skin. Diagnosis is made through biopsy evaluation which is followed by treatment with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
  • Lipomas occur within the fatty tissues and reside as soft, fluctant round masses that adhere tightly to surrounding tissue (typically to organs and the membrane linings of body cavities). For this type of tumor, surgical removal is the common treatment choice. However, removal is not guaranteed as the tumor sometimes adheres strongly to surrounding muscles and tissues.
  • Mastocytoma are the second most common skin tumor in cats.[13] They are usually single nodules in the skin, most commonly on the head and neck; in about one quarter of cats, the nodules become ulcerated.[13] Multiple nodules occur in about 20% of cases.[13]
  • Melanomas are not common in cats but when they are, they manifest as basal cell tumors. These tumors are benign in nature, but are firm and raised from the surface of the skin. They are commonly found around the neck, head, ears, and shoulder regions and can be treated through chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • Myeloproliferative tumors are types of genetic disorders passed through generations. It can affect the bone marrow, white and red blood cells, and platelets. Similar symptoms occur in blood clotting disorders, they include weakness, labored breathing, pale muscus membranes and a loss of appetite. Treatment options for these tumors include chemotherapy, and bone marrow transplants.
  • Osteosarcoma are tumors that mainly affect the joints, bones and lungs. Osteosarcoma can lead to swelling, loss in dexterity, coughing, and breathing difficulties. Diagnosis is done by radiographs usually followed by a biopsy. Treating osteosarcoma treatment involves aggressive surgical intervention that may lead to amputation of the affected limb.
  • Squamous cell carcinomas affect areas that lack natural pigmentation (oral cavity, tonsils, lips, nose, eyelids, outer earal ear, limbs, toes and nails), or areas that are under constant trauma and irritation. They are diagnosed through biopsy testing. Treatment options include: surgery, cryotherapy, hyperthermia, chemotherapy, and radiation.


X-ray of FeLV-positive cat with lung cancer
X-ray of FeLV-positive cat with lung cancer

Diagnosing the type of cancer, by the analysis of the structure of the tumor and cancer cells, helps determine the best treatment.[14]

  • Physical examination is the most common diagnostic method because typically most tumors can be diagnosed using physical examination with visual observation and manual palpation.
  • X-rays are divided by two types: plain film and constrat techniques. They are commonly used to identify tumors of the lung, gastrointestinal tract and bladder.
  • Ultrasonography is used to visualize internal bodily structures, and can diagnose internal tumors. It is also a way to see internal cysts (which may become tumors) and to see the size and structure of the organs.
  • Cytology involves taking cells from the affected area, such as mammary gland secretions, nasal secretions, respiratory secretions, bone marrow and lymph nodes. This is typically the method used for ruling out bumps that may be abscesses, cysts, or granulomas.
  • Nuclear scanning is used to view the liver, thyroid, lung, spleen, kidney, and bones.
  • Blood tests are completed through microscopic and biochemical analysis. They are completed to confirm or discount suspected cases of feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus. An immunoflourescent antibody (IFA) test is available for the detection of FeLV in the blood of infected cats.[15]


Treatments of cancer in cats usually consists of diagnosis and observation of the tumor to determine its type and size, the development of a treatment plan, the associated goals on the part of the treatment methods, and the regular evaluation of the overall health of the pet.

  • Surgery can be utilized if the tumor is localized and accessible, with the goal of removing all malignant cells before any spreading occurs to other regions of the pet. It continues to be the most common choice for treatment of cancer in felines.
  • Radiation is used to control or cure cancers provided: the tumor targeted falls in the range suitable for radiation, no radiosensitive organs are involved, and it can be meta-sized. It can be done either internally through implants (brachytherapy), or externally by using radioactive beams (tele-therapy). This destroys the DNA of the cells and ensures reproduction chances are diminished.
  • Chemotherapy breaks down the chromosomes of the cell or tumor, so cell division becomes impossible. This stops the affected cells to reproduce or spread to other parts of the body. Side effects include bone marrow depression, nausea, hair loss and hemorrhaging, with a major issue being that it does not work effectively against large tumors.
  • Immunotherapy works on the premise that many cancers occur because the organism's immune system is locally suppressed by the cancer cells. It asserts that the tumor would have been eliminated if the tumor microenvironment had not been suppressive. Rather than employing external procedures, it stimulates the animal's own system to fight the cancer. A good example of this methodology is the use of monoclonal antibodies in triggering the body's immune system to fight any cells to which it attaches.


The prevention of feline cancer mainly depends on the cat's diet and lifestyle, as well as an ability to detect early signs and symptoms of cancer prior to advancement to a further stage. If cancer is detected at an earlier stage, it has a higher chance of being treated, therefore lessening the chances of fatality. Taking cats for regular checkups to the veterinarian can help spot signs and symptoms of cancer early on.

Interaction with other cats[edit]

Interaction with other cats with strains or diseases related to FeLV can be a great risk factor for cats attaining FeLV themselves. Therefore, a main factor in prevention is keeping the affected cats in quarantine from the unaffected cats. Stray cats, or indoor/outdoor cats have been shown to be at a greater risk for acquiring FeLV, since they have a greater chance of interacting with other cats. Domesticated cats that are kept indoors are the least vulnerable to susceptible diseases.[16]


Vaccines help the immune system fight off disease causing organisms, which is another key to prevention.[16] A vaccine for feline leukemia virus was created in 1969.[15]

Spaying and neutering[edit]

Spaying and neutering holds many advantages to cats, including lowering the risk for developing cancer. Neutering male cats makes them less subjected to testicular cancer, FeLV, and FIV. Spaying female cats lowers the risk for mammary cancer, ovarian, or uterine cancer, as it prevents them from going into heat. Female cats should be spayed before their first heat, as each cycle of heat creates a greater risk for mammary cancer. Spaying a female cat requires the removal of the ovaries and uterus, which would eliminate their chances of developing cancer in these areas.[17]

Exposure to sun[edit]

The risk of skin cancer increases when a cat is exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods. White cats, or cats with white faces and ears, should not be allowed out on sunny days. Between the hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, it is recommended to keep domesticated cats indoors, as the sun is at its highest peak between these times. Sun block is also available for cats, which can help prevent skin irritation, and a veterinarian should be contacted to find out which brands are appropriate and to use on cats.[18]

Exposure to secondhand smoke[edit]

Cats living in a smoker’s household are three times more likely to develop lymphoma.[19] Compared to living in a smoke-free environment, cats exposed to secondhand smoke also have a greater chance of developing squamous cell carcinoma or mouth cancer. Cancer is also developed mostly due to the cat's grooming habits. As cats lick themselves while they groom, they increase chances of taking in the toxic, cancer-causing carcinogens that gather on their fur, which are then exposed to their mucus membranes.[16]


Providing a cat with the healthiest lifestyle possible is the key to prevention. Decreasing the amount of toxins, including household cleaning products, providing fresh and whole foods, clean and purified water, and reducing the amount of indoor pollution can help cats live a longer and healthier life. To lessen susceptibility to diseases, domesticated cats should be kept inside the household for most of their lives to reduce the risk of interacting with other stray cats that could be infected with diseases.[20]


Small animals, like cats, experience faster rates of cancer development. As a result, they are good preclinical models for understanding processes like immortalization and its role in promoting cancerous tumors.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Feline Cancer Resources". Retrieved 2012-03-22.
  2. ^ a b c d e Eckstein, Sandy. "Cancer in Cats: Types, Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment". WebMD. Retrieved 2012-03-22.Eldredge, Debra (2005). Cancer and Your Pet. Capital Books. ISBN 9781931868860. Retrieved 2017-04-01 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ a b c d e Wells, Virginia. "Feline Cancer: What are the Warning Signs?". Intelligent Content Corp. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
  4. ^ a b "Lymphoma in Cats" (PDF). Southern California Veterinary Specialty Hospital. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
  5. ^ "Skin Tumors in Cats: An Overview". Petwave. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
  6. ^ a b "Skin Cancer (tumors) in Cats and Dogs". Pet Cancer Center. 2011-10-16. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
  7. ^ Carlson, Delbert B.; Griffin, James M.; Carlson, Lisa (1995). Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook. New York: Howell Book House. doi:10.1002/9781118269305. ISBN 9780470095300.
  8. ^ Muller, George H.; Kirk, Robert Warren; Miller, William Howard; Griffin, Craig E. (2001). Muller & Kirk's Small Animal Dermatology. W.B. Saunders. ISBN 9780721676180.
  9. ^ Ross, John (2001-03-04). "Curbing dog's anxiety may lick the medical problem". Retrieved 2018-07-20.
  10. ^ "Feline Mammary Tumors". Veterinary Medical Center. Retrieved 2018-07-20.
  11. ^ a b "Mammary Gland (Breast) Cancer in Cats". Pet Cancer Center. 2011-10-16. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
  12. ^ a b "Stomach (Gastric) Cancer in Cats and Dogs". Pet Cancer Center. 2011-10-16. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
  13. ^ a b c Blackwood, L.; Murphy, S.; Buracco, P.; De Vos, J. P.; De Fornel-Thibaud, P.; Hirschberger, J.; Kessler, M.; Pastor, J.; Ponce, F.; Savary-Bataille, K.; Argyle, D. J. (September 2012). "European consensus document on mast cell tumours in dogs and cats". Veterinary and Comparative Oncology. 10 (3): e1–e29. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5829.2012.00341.x. PMID access publication – free to read
  14. ^ Pinney, C (2004). A Complete Home Veterinary Guide, pp. 663–683. McGraw Hill, United States.
  15. ^ a b Hardy, W. D. (1976). "Prevention of the contagious spread of feline leukaemia virus and the development of leukaemia in pet cats". Nature. 263 (5575): 326–328. doi:10.1038/263326a0.
  16. ^ a b c AScribe News. (2001). "Cats and Dogs Also Face Skin Cancer Danger From Sun." Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 23.
  17. ^ Syufy, Franny. (2012). "Care of a Pregnant Cat." Cats. Retrieved March 23.
  18. ^ "Sunburn (Solar Dermatitis) in Cats – Symptoms, Treatments and How to Avoid Solar Dermatitis in Cats. Cat World. (2012). Retrieved March 23.
  19. ^ Liz-Cat. (2010). "3 Ways to Help Your Cat Prevent Cancer Now." Natural Cat Care Blog. Retrieved March 23.
  20. ^ Nelson, Brenda. (2008). How to Prevent Cancer in Cats. Knoji.
  21. ^ Pang, Lisa; Argyle (February 2009). "Using naturally occurring tumours in dogs and cats to study telomerase and cancer stem cell biology". Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular Basis of Disease. 1792 (4): 380–391. doi:10.1016/j.bbadis.2009.02.010. PMID 19254761.

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