As pet owners it seems that sooner or later we find a lump on our pet that just doesn’t belong. If you are like I am or for that matter like most people attached to their pets we always assume the worst. As irrational as this approach may be it is part of human nature. The good news is that most growths we see in veterinary practice are not cancerous. So does that mean we can just ignore them? Hardly as tumors (another term for growths) can still be problematic for dogs and cats even if they are benign (not cancerous). Although it is impossible here to even scratch the surface of the various types of neoplasms (another word for growths) seen in practice, suffice to say that most growths that occur in humans can also show up on our pets.
So what is the best way to approach the issue should your pet develop one or more tumors? We begin the assessment with a physical exam and palpation (gentle manipulation) of the growth. Although it is impossible to determine if a growth is malignant or benign based on feel alone certain lumps have distinctive characteristics. This palpation also helps to provide valuable information regarding the tentative removal of the mass as to degree of difficulty and depth of involvement. In addition to palpation, fine needle aspirate (FNA) which allows us to take a somewhat representative sample of the growth can also aid in identification of the neoplasm and to help assess the urgency of removal. It should be stressed that FNA is not as accurate as biopsy, a surgical procedure which requires cutting into the lump. Summarizing the steps in dealing with a growth is as follows:
1. Upon first identifying a growth have your vet examine and palpate the mass to get a general idea as far as size, invasiveness, and location.
2. Next your doctor should aspirate the growth to gain additional information as far as the likelihood of malignancy.
3. Based on the above information surgical removal should be scheduled appropriately. What is meant by appropriately? A small growth that is in a favorable location may still warrant immediate removal if it has characteristics suggestive of cancer. Similarly a large yet likely benign tumor (one can never be sure until biopsy) may require urgent surgical attention if it is growing in an area that is likely to interfere with walking or laying down such as in an armpit. Some growths although large can safely be delayed if they appear to be benign and are not immediately causing problems. If your pet has several growths and you are not able to remove all at once, a similar priority should be assigned in an effort to avoid cancerous growths spreading as well as to avoid benign growths from becoming problematic.
In the next post we’ll cover some other supportive procedures that should be considered in dealing with tumors.