Cancer In Cats
Your cat isn’t just a furry, friendly roommate, your cat is a beloved member of your family. When a cat is diagnosed with cancer, it can be devastating. Did you know that more than 6 million cats are diagnosed with cancer every year? Cancers, like lymphoma, can be treated if caught early, giving our feline friends good quality, longer lives. Cats that have feline leukemia virus (FeLV) have a 33% chance of developing cancer. Thankfully, fewer cats have FeLV as more cats are strictly indoors, limiting their exposure to this contagious disease. 5
Would you know if your cat was suffering from feline cancer? Many cat owners don’t, and we want to help.
Feline Tumor Risk Factors
Unlike dogs, by nature cats tend to hide their clinical signs if they are not feeling up to snuff. This can make it difficult to know about health concerns in a feline. Interestingly, risk factors for cancer in cats are very similar to those in humans. Exposure to tobacco smoke, asbestos, prolonged sunlight, and lack of exercise have often been linked to increased risks of cancer development in both cats and humans.3
Keeping your cat indoors can keep your cat healthy and prolong their life. Indoor cats have an average lifespan almost three times that of outdoor cats.6
Cat Cancer Varieties
There are many types of cancer in cats, including:
- This is the most common form of cancer in cats. While it can be genetically spread in dogs and people, it is much harder to identify genetics as a cause as many families get their cats as strays. Lymphoma can result in GI disturbances (vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, weight loss) or can occur in the chest cavity or lymph nodes. This cancer type is very responsive to chemotherapy, and 90% of cats have no side effects from such treatment.
- Nasal tumors. This type of cancer often presents like typical upper respiratory signs one sees in cats when they have a virus. Cats are typically 10 years of age or older when they develop nasal tumors; symptoms include a history of nasal discharge, sneezing and weight loss that does not get better with medications and time. Radiation therapy is often the treatment of choice and can produce a remission of one to two years.
- Mast cell tumors. These are the most common malignant skin tumors seen in cats. Some cats may only get one small lesion and hence surgery is often curative. Other cats will develop a couple to numerous skin and subcutaneous lesions which surgery cannot cure. At times, this disease can also show up in the spleen, stomach and/or intestines.
- Oral tumors. Oral tumors are typically seen in older cats; 90% of these them are squamous cell carcinomas. Cats often present with a decreased appetite, foul-smelling breath, drooling and having some difficulty eating. Other types of oral tumors are fibrosarcomas, adenocarcinomas and ameloblastomas.
- Injection-site sarcomas (ISS). Injection-site sarcomas are malignant cancers triggered by injections of material placed under the skin, causing chronic inflammation. People and dogs get injections all the time but don’t often get this cancer — it is the cat’s inflammatory reaction to the injection that makes it more likely in this species. Thankfully, this cancer is decreasing since it was first noted decades ago. While the rabies vaccine, feline distempter vaccine and the FeLV vaccine are more commonly associated with this disease, any injection has the (small) possibility of being an issue. Even still, only 1 in 10,000 to 30,000 cats are afflicted with this cancer. Typically this cancer has a 20-25% chance of metastasizing, or spreading. Be sure to watch for a persistent swelling or lump in the area of the injection and have your veterinarian evaluate the region on your cat after any injections.2
- Mammary cancer. This is another form of cancer in cats, but fortunately, this variety is one that can often be prevented by spaying. Cats spayed before six months of age are seven times less likely to develop mammary tumors than cats spayed after six months of age.4
- Bone cancer. This type of cancer in cats can impact the limbs, spine, skull, pelvis, and or any bone in the feline skeleton. These tumors can be primary (such as solitary tumor within the bone, like osteosarcoma) or diffuse, or spread to an adjacent site, like multiple myeloma of the bone marrow or metastastatic lesions from a distant tumor site. Thankfully, primary bone tumors are uncommon in cats. Though osteosarcoma is also the most common bone tumor in cats, the behavior of this tumor type is less aggressive than in dogs.7
- Brain tumor (meningioma) is more common in male cats than female cats. Meningiomas are primary brain tumors and account for 56-69% of all brain tumor types in cats. They are typically slow-growing tumors in cats. Other primary brain tumors include pituitary tumors, gliomas, ependymoma, choroid plexus papilloma, medulloblastoma, olfactory neuroblastoma, and gangliocytoma. Clinical signs can be mental dullness, seizures, walking in circles or having difficulty walking. Radiation therapy has a good chance of reducing these lesions for a good 1-2+ years. 8
Symptoms Of Cancer In Cats
As a cat owner, you should always be observant of any changes in your cat’s physical appearance and behavior. Not all cancer warning signs are apparent right away, with some changes developing over time.
If you notice any of these symptoms of cancer in your cat, contact your veterinarian to check things out as soon as possible. Depending on the cancer type and stage, your cat’s health can deteriorate very quickly, so it’s always best to get an exam. When in doubt, get it checked out.
- Enlarged or changing lumps and bumps
- Sores that do not heal
- Chronic weight loss or weight gain
- Change in appetite
- A persistent cough
- Persistent lameness or stiffness
- Unpleasant odor from the mouth
- Difficulty breathing, eating or swallowing
- Difficulty urinating or defecating
- Bleeding or discharge from any opening
Regular wellness exams will provide your veterinarian the opportunity to check for signs of cancer, but you can take a more proactive approach to your cat’s health by looking for these warning signs regularly.3
Just like for our own health, wellness exams can help catch any potential problems early – sometimes with lifesaving results. The same kind of lump and bump check can be a life-saving routine for our cats too.2
What to Do If Your Cat Has Cancer
Oncology for cats is available! If your cat has been diagnosed with cancer, contact our Pet Advocates at (833) PET-HERO or your local PetCure Oncology center. Our veterinary cancer experts are ready to help answer your questions.
RELATED: What You Should Know About Cancer in Cats, Tips for Caring For A Cat With Cancer, Tips For Traveling With Your Pet for Cancer Treatment, 7 Pet Cancer Myths Debunked, How To Tell If Your Cat Is In Pain, When to Euthanize A Cat With Cancer
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.
Head and neck tumors in cats
- Oral melanomas in cats
- Squamous cell carcinomas in cats
- Fibrosarcomas in cats
- Plasmacytomas in cats
- Acanthomatous amelioblastomas in cats
- Adenocarcinomas in cats
- Nasal tumors in cats
Extremity tumors in cats
- Osteosarcomas in cats
- Skin Cancer in cats
- Soft-tissue sarcomas in cats
- Fibrosarcomas in cats
- Infiltrative lipomas in cats
- Mammary tumors in cats
- Mast cell tumors in cats
Spinal tumors in cats
Pelvic canal tumors in cats
- Anal gland adenocarcinomas in cats
- Prostatic tumors in cats
Carcinoma/Epithelial in cats
- Nasal/paranasal sinus
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Basal cell
- Salivary gland
- Ceruminous gland
- Bronchogenic/non-small cell lung
- Transitional cell of bladder/prostate/urethra
- Anal gland
- Neuroendocrine carcinoma
- Thymoma (epithelioid)
Sarcoma/Mesenchymal in cats
Round Cell in cats
- Thymoma (lymphoid)
- Multiple Myeloma
- Mast Cell Tumor