Basal Cell Carcinoma in Dogs

Basal cell tumors are a common type of skin cancer in dogs. Basal cell carcinoma, also referred to as basosquamous cell carcinoma, is the malignant form of the disease, accounting for 10% of all basal cell cases in dogs. This cancerous tumor is often slow-growing and can occur anywhere on the skin of the body. It typically presents as either a flattened or raised area on the skin surface. This cancer can spread to other parts of the body (such as the lymph nodes or the lungs), but rarely affects the dog’s other internal organs. Basal cell carcinoma frequently occurs in middle-aged to older dogs.

Basal cell carcinoma should not be confused with basal cell tumors, which are benign skin tumors that occur in the basal cells of the epidermis (skin). Basal cell tumors start as benign and rarely, if ever, turn malignant (cancerous). Basal cell carcinoma, by contrast, is a type of skin cancer in dogs that starts as malignant and can spread or metastasize to other parts of the body if not treated early. In this article, we are discussing basal cell carcinoma in dogs, the signs and symptoms, how it’s treated and the prognosis for this type of cancer.

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What Causes Basal Cell Carcinoma in Dogs?

The exact cause of basal cell carcinoma in dogs is unknown. However, it has been linked to exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or artificial sources and even certain types of viruses. Factors such as genetics and environmental toxins like chemicals may also play a role. Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to developing basal cell carcinoma including poodles and some terriers.

Signs and Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma in Dogs

The most common sign of basal cell carcinoma in dogs is the presence of a flattened or raised areas on the dog’s skin. These masses can vary in size from 0.2 to 10 centimeters in diameter and may be ulcerated or have an irregular border. Signs of basal cell carcinoma include localized:

  • Lesion on the skin
  • Itching
  • Bleeding
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Skin ulcerations that don’t heal properly
  • Hair loss
  • Odor
  • Discharge; and
  • Pain in the affected area

If your dogs is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it’s essential to see a veterinarian to obtain a proper diagnosis.

Diagnosis and Staging of Basal Cell Carcinoma in Dogs

Diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma is made through biopsy or cytology of the cells. Often one of the first diagnostic tools is doing a cytology in which a tissue sample is obtained by aspiration with a needle (also termed fine need aspiration or FNA). Your veterinarian may choose to do a cytological examination which tends to be less invasive and involves examining cells taken from the tumor under a microscope. A biopsy can be more invasive and involves taking a tissue sample or actual piece of the mass from the tumor for examination under a microscope by a veterinary pathologist.

Once diagnosed, the tumor is staged. Staging helps determine how advanced the cancer has progressed and what treatment options are available. In a work-up to stage or assess the extent of disease, blood work (CBC, chemistry profile, urinalysis) and three-view chest x-rays are performed. Your veterinarian may also recommend an abdominal ultrasound. If caught early, basal cell carcinoma may not progress any further, often yielding an excellent prognosis.

How Does Basal Cell Carcinoma In Dogs Progress?

Basal cell carcinomas can grow slowly over time and may eventually spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. They can also become more aggressive with age and have a higher risk of metastasizing (spreading) to other parts of the body. Basal cell carcinoma rarely affects a dog’s organs, but it is possible. Therefore, early detection and treatment is vitally important.

Treatment Options for Dogs with Basal Cell Carcinoma

Treatment options for basal cell carcinoma depend on several factors, including the size and location of the tumor, as well as the overall health status of your dog and whether the cancer has metastasized. Treatment options can involve surgery, cryosurgery (freezing), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and photodynamic therapy. Surgery is most often used to remove small tumors, while radiation therapy may be recommended for larger tumors. For those that have spread to other areas, chemotherapy may be recommended. If the cancer is advanced, a combination of treatments is sometimes preferred to ensure the cancer hasn’t affected other areas of the body and has less chance of recurrence.

Can Stereotactic Radiation Therapy Help Dogs with Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT) has been found to be an effective treatment option for dogs with basal cell carcinoma. Studies have shown that SRT can provide long-term control and even cure some cases without causing significant side effects or damage to surrounding tissues. The prognosis after SRT depends on several factors such as the size and location of the tumor as well as the overall health status of your dog. Generally, the prognosis is good if the cancer is caught early enough and before it spreads too far beyond its original site.

Life Expectancy, Survival Rate, and Prognosis

The life expectancy and survival rate for dogs who have been treated for basal cell carcinoma is generally very good but depends on a variety of factors including:

  • Tumor size
  • Tumor location
  • Stage of the cancer
  • Extent of treatment
  • Overall health status

Many dogs go on to live long and healthy lives after successful treatment, but it’s essential to get diagnosed early so treatment can begin as early as possible.

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from basal cell carcinoma, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible so they can diagnose and develop a treatment plan tailored to your pet’s needs. Early detection and proper care are essential for ensuring a positive outcome. Our Pet Advocate Team is available to talk to you about basal cell carcinoma treatment with no obligation, so feel free to give them a call at 833-738-4376.

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Types of Cancers in Dogs

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


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