Basal Cell Carcinoma in Cats

Basal cell tumors are a common type of skin cancer that affects cats. It’s estimated that up to 28% of feline skin tumors are basal cell tumors. Thankfully, only a small subset are the malignant form, called Basal Cell Carcinoma. Benign basal cell tumors are not covered in this article, but you can read more about them on our Basal Cell Tumors In Cats article. For the malignant form of this disease, these masses arise from an abnormal growth of cells of the outer layer of the epidermis (skin) and can appear as flattened lesions. Basal cell carcinoma rarely metastasizes (spreads) to the body’s organs, but it is possible, therefore it’s important to take your cat to the vet for a definitive diagnosis.

What Causes Basal Cell Carcinoma in Cats?

While scientists are uncertain of the precise cause behind feline basal cell carcinoma, they believe that genetics and viral infections may serve as possible initiators. Similarly, other environmental components like chemicals or sunlight may also be contributory factors to this condition. Older cats and certain breeds, such as Himalayans, Persians, Angoras and other medium or long-haired cats are possibly at increased risk of developing feline basal cell.

Signs and Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma in Cats

The most noticeable sign of basal cell carcinoma in cats will be a flattened growth anywhere on the outside of a cat’s body, however this skin cancer is most commonly found on a cat’s head, neck or legs. These growths may be pigmented or ulcerated and can vary in size – up to a few centimeters in diameter. Additionally, some malignant basal cell tumors in cats do not have a raised appearance. Other signs of basal cell carcinoma include:

  • Hair loss at the tumor site
  • Bleeding at the tumor site
  • Itching at the tumor site, or
  • Pain at the site of the tumor

If you notice any of these signs in your cat, be sure to take them to the vet promptly for a work-up.

How Is Feline Basal Cell Carcinoma Diagnosed and Staged?

To diagnose your cat with basal cell tumors, your veterinarian will likely recommend a cytological exam or biopsy to confirm the cell type and to determine if it is malignant or benign.

  • Cytology – A cytological examination looks at individual cells which is usually less invasive than a biopsy but can sometimes have inconclusive results, requiring further examination through a biopsy.
  • Biopsy – A biopsy involves taking a small tissue sample from the tumor and having a veterinary pathologist examine the cells under a microscope.

If the tumor is malignant, a diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma is made. The next step is to stage the tumor. The goal of staging a tumor is to determine how extensive the cancer is in the body. Your veterinarian may recommend blood work (CBC, chemistry profile, urinalysis), three-view chest x-rays and possibly an abdominal ultrasound.

How Does Basal Cell Carcinoma Progress?

Basal cell carcinoma in cats is often a slow-growing skin cancer. Tumors can spread, but typically do not spread to organ tissues. When they do metastasize (spread), they will go to the draining lymph node(s) and the lungs. Left untreated, the tumors can cause inflammation, ulceration and necrosis (death) of surrounding tissues. Considered highly treatable, many treatment options exist, so have your cat examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

What Are Some Treatment Options for Cats With Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Treatment options for cats with basal cell carcinomas depend on several factors including your overall health. Additionally, the size and location of the tumor, and whether it has spread beyond its original site will factor into treatment options. A variety of treatment options maybe employed including one or a combination of the following:

  • Surgery is usually recommended as the primary treatment option for removing basal cell carcinoma in cats
  • Radiation therapy may be used to target and kill the cancer cells while minimizing damage to surrounding tissues. At times, radiation therapy may be used after surgery if surgery did not result in wide, clean margins.
  • Cryotherapy (freezing) may be used if the tumor is small
  • Chemotherapy may also be used if there are multiple tumors present or if surgery cannot remove them all completely

Depending on the stage of your cat’s basal cell carcinoma, your veterinarian will discuss the most appropriate treatment options. From there, the two of you can determine the best course of treatment.

What Is The Prognosis For Cats With Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Cats that are treated early for basal cell carcinoma often have an excellent prognosis. Individual results for cats treated for basal cell carcinoma depend on how early it was detected and treated, how aggressive it was when found, your cat’s response to treatment, and whether it had spread beyond its original site. Generally speaking, however, cats who have received early treatment have an excellent prognosis with long-term survival rates up to 90%.

If you notice any lumps or bumps on your cat, be sure to prioritize a visit to your veterinarian. Early diagnosis and treatment increase the chances of a successful outcome. Questions about feline basal cell carcinoma? Feel free to give our highly knowledgable Pet Advocate Team a call at 833-738-4376.

Types of Cancers In Cats

If your pet is displaying any symptoms of cancer or has been diagnosed with cancer, sort below by cancer type or tumor location to learn more about each cancer type and available treatment options for your pet. Click on the links for more specific information on treatment and real patient stories.




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