Pet Talk: Skin tumors in cats are serious |

Pet Talk: Skin tumors in cats are serious

Stephen Sheldon
Vail, CO Colorado

Is it surprising that skin tumors represent the largest class of cancers in animals?

Not if you consider that the skin is the largest organ system and is exposed to a large number of environmental carcinogens. And the news for cats is worse than it is for dogs: most skin tumors in cats are malignant whereas in dogs they are often benign.

Skin tumors occur most often in older cats; most feline cancer patients are 10 years or older.

Because the skin is a highly visible organ, most of the time you will notice the tumor first and bring it to your veterinarians’ attention. Do not let him or her tell you to just watch it. All skin masses in cats deserve serious attention.

The most common skin tumors in cats, in order, are: basal cell tumors, squamous cell carcinomas, and fibrosarcomas. Let’s discuss a few of these and what you should do if your cat has any lumps in the skin.

Basal cell tumors are tumors of the basal cells of the epidermis: hair follicles, sweat or sebaceous glands. They are usually found around the head and neck.

This is the most common skin tumor and they are usually benign and rarely metastasize or spread. These tumors are often removed by surgery.

Squamous cell carcinomas, or SCCs, occur most commonly around the ears, nose and eyelids in cats who lack pigment in these areas. And, as you probably guessed, they are caused by sunlight. Interestingly, Siamese cats, who have an abundance of facial pigmentation, are less likely to develop SCCs.

With SCCs the area becomes red and has a waxy, dark, crusty appearance, which will start to ulcerate and destroy surrounding tissue. It takes a while for the cancer to spread but when it does, it spreads to the regional lymph nodes, lungs, and bone. Treatment of SCC is by surgery, radiation therapy or cryotherapy. They often re-occur and can be frustrating to treat.

The next tumor, fibrosarcoma, can account for up to 25 percent of feline tumors. These tumors can occur in cats infected with the feline leukemia or feline sarcoma viruses. However, most fibrosarcomas in older cats are not associated with either of these viruses.

These tumors most commonly occur in the limbs. They can get quite big and may ulcerate. They rarely metastasize but the problem with fibrosarcomas and other soft tissue sarcomas is they recur locally. They absolutely must be treated with wide, deep and early surgical excision as these tumors send microscopic, finger like projections into surrounding tissue, making complete excision difficult. Radiation therapy is a very useful in treating incompletely excised tumors.

There are other skin tumors in cats but these three are the most common. If your cat has a lump or bump in the skin seek veterinary help immediately.

Stephen Sheldon, DVM is a member of The Veterinary Cancer Society. He practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital and welcomes your questions 524-3647, or

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