Liver Cancer In Cats
As is the case with other mammals, a cat’s liver is both vital and versatile. It plays an integral part in many functions that contribute to good health. These include digestion, metabolism of nutrients and the filtering of blood, and that’s just for starters. Fortunately, among the types of cancers that cats can develop, cancer that begins in the liver is exceedingly rare — only about 1% of cats are stricken. Neither breed nor a cat’s sex impact the likelihood of developing liver cancer, and those cats that do get liver cancer are typically older (at least 10 years old). Not all liver tumors are cancerous, however, and so treatment options vary. They can include surgery, stereotactic radiation and/or chemotherapy. The best treatment depends on the type of tumor, if it is a malignant (cancerous) tumor, and the stage to which it has progressed. Cats often respond well to treatments and can do well for a year and beyond.
Types Of Liver Tumors In Cats
While it’s rare for cancer to start in the liver, a cat can also develop liver nodules from other cancers that have metastasized (spread) there. There are also liver tumors that are benign. It’s also noteworthy that a cat’s liver has six lobes, which are rounded projections of the organ. This is relevant because tumors can develop in one lobe or multiple lobes. Here are some types of feline liver tumors:
Hepatocellular carcinoma: Hepatic carcinoma (or hepatic adenocarcinoma) is the most common type of primary liver cancer. A tumor typically will develop in a single liver lobe, but hepatocellular carcinoma in cats can also result in tumors throughout other lobes.
Sarcoma: A tumor within the liver also could be sarcoma, such as a leiomyosarcoma or a fibrosarcoma. Some sarcomas can metastasize from another part of the body. Histiocytic sarcoma and hemangiosarcoma, which arise in blood and blood vessel cells, are two examples.
Mast cell tumors: Though commonly a skin tumors in cats, mast cell tumors can arise from the liver or can be the source of another metastatic cancer that results in liver tumors.
Hepatic lymphoma: Cancer from the lymph nodes and lymphatic system also can spread to the liver. Occasionally, lymphoma may first arise in the liver as well.
Benign tumors: Some liver tumors, such as adenomas, are generally benign, similar to cysts.
Clinical Signs to Look for
The liver is located near the end of the rib cage. Due to its location and all of the bodily functions in which it plays a role, signs of liver cancer in cats can be physical, behavioral or both:
- A growing mass can make a cat look full or big-bellied.
- A cat with liver cancer also may appear lethargic or may seem to be slower than normal.
- A cat also may not spring to his or her feet as easily as normal because of the feeling of being full that he or she is experiencing.
- If a tumor has grown to the point that it is pushing on the cat’s stomach, the cat may vomit.
- Decreased appetite and the resultant weight loss also can be signs of liver cancer.
Workup & Diagnosis
Since cats rarely develop liver cancer and similar symptoms could have other causes, a veterinarian would perform a series of tests before making a cancer diagnosis. Bloodwork in the form of a chemistry profile can determine whether liver enzymes are elevated, which would indicate something is impairing liver function. A CBC (complete blood count) profile and a coagulation profile (which measures clotting ability) could be ordered. Urinalysis is standard. An abdominal ultrasound and/or CAT scan can determine whether there is indeed a mass, while also providing the veterinarian with an idea of the size and exact location. In some instances, the veterinarian may perform an ultrasound-guided biopsy or aspiration of the tissue, which can help determine the type of cancer and to which stage it has advanced. If cancer is suspected or confirmed, he or she probably will order chest X-rays as well, to determine whether the cancer has spread to the lungs.
Treatment Options & Prognosis
There is no cure for primary liver cancer in cats, but treatment may restore your cat’s quality of life and extend your time together. Treatment options include the following:
Surgery: The optimal treatment for feline liver cancer affecting one single hepatic lobe is surgical removal of the tumor. A CAT scan will help determine whether that procedure is feasible. If a cat’s tumor is removed, expect him or her to be feeling better within a week or so. Additionally, it could be a year or 18 months before cancer returns. Surgery is often not a viable choice for a feline with cancer throughout multiple liver lobes.
If a benign tumor is growing in a single liver lobe, surgical removal is both recommended and curative.
Stereotactic Radiation: Surgery is not always an option. Whether that’s the case or a cat parent declines surgery for another reason, Stereotactic Radiation is an alternative. This newer treatment modality often results in good outcomes, with cats doing well for quite some time. Stereotactic Radiation is designed to damage the tumor while minimizing or preventing harm to surrounding tissues and organs. There typically are just three treatments, and there are fewer side effects than with chemotherapy. After radiation, tumors may die quickly or they may slowly regress over the course of months. A treated cat typically will then start to feel well. The PetCure Oncology team has a great deal of experience with Stereotactic Radiation and can share additional information about this treatment option.
Chemotherapy: Surgical removal of a liver tumor is not always possible. The liver is too important to risk any procedure that would compromise its function. In such cases, chemotherapy may be the treatment of choice, depending on the specific type of cancer the cat has. Cats with hepatic lymphoma, for instance, respond well to chemotherapy. Hemangiosarcoma is an example of a cancer not as responsive to chemotherapy.
No treatment: If treatment is declined for a cat with liver cancer, subsequent decisions should be made based on quality of life. Symptoms eventually will worsen. The cat may drink more water than is typical and also urinate more frequently. The timeframe can vary depending on which type of cancer the stricken cat has. Tumors from hepatic carcinoma tend to grow slowly, while metastatic cancers that are left untreated can grow relatively quickly, in a couple to a few months.
Find a PetCure Oncology Location Near You
PetCure Oncology provides innovative treatments for cats with liver cancer. We care about your cat’s health, and that shows in the level of support and professionalism that we demonstrate at all times. Our mission is to extend your cat’s life for as long as possible while also providing a good quality of life.
For more information about PetCure Oncology and our treatment options, find a location near you today.