Common Cancers in Cats

As a cat parent, you value and cherish every moment with your kitty, even when she wakes you up in the middle of the night for treats or upchucks hairballs onto the carpet. However, another important role a cat parent has is to care for their kitty when she develops diseases or illnesses. What all cat parents should know is what types of cat cancers may affect their felines. One in five cats are diagnosed with cancer during their lifetimes, and some cancers are more common than others. Thus, cat parents must be familiar with this potentially deadly disease. Here are the most common cancers in cats, how they affect cats, and what cat parents can expect with a diagnosis.

Tabby cat looks off in the distance.

Lymphoma

As the most common cancer in cats, lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell involved with immune responses and the lymph nodes. Because these lymphocytes move throughout the body, lymphoma can develop in multiple sites. Typically, this cancer is found in the lymph nodes (including the spleen and bone marrow), nose, chest cavity, intestinal tract, nervous system, and kidneys. 

Treatment for feline lymphoma depends on the location or locations and the form of the tumors. Drug therapy, radiation and chemotherapy, and surgery are the standard options used to treat lymphoma. How the tumor reacts within the first three weeks of treatment is the best indicator of a cat’s long-term response to the therapy; roughly 50 - 70% of cats treated with chemotherapy will experience remission and live for another 4 - 12 months.

Skin Cancer

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a type of skin and oral cancer that generally develops on exposed skin. The nose, eyelids, and ears are common locations for skin cancer, especially in white, light-colored, unpigmented, or thinly coated cats. Cats who fit this description should be indoor-only and have limited exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Oral SCC accounts for 10% of all feline skin cancers, and these tumors grow rapidly. Interestingly, cats exposed to tobacco smoke in the home and cats who wear flea collars have an increased likelihood of developing oral cancers. Unless caught early, oral skin cancers have a poor prognosis, even with treatment. 

Surgery is almost always the first line of treatment, especially with oral cancer. Unfortunately, due to a cat’s small-sized mouth, treatment has little effect by the time the tumor is found. At that point, surgery involves removing parts of the jaw. With non-oral skin cancers, radiation therapy and surgical removal are successful treatments if the tumor is located early.

Fibrosarcoma

Fibrosarcoma is a slow-moving yet aggressive cancer of the soft tissue. It spreads slowly to other areas of the body but moves quickly in the immediate locality of the original tumor. This tumor develops within the fibrous connective tissue, and the most common sign that a cat has fibrosarcoma is a firm swelling underneath the skin that grows progressively larger. 

This cancer is best treated with a combination of approaches, including surgery and chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Prognosis is mixed depending on the aggressiveness of the tumor.

Maine coon cat crouches on the floor.

Mammary (breast) Cancer

Mammary cancer occurs 95% more in female cats than males and is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in felines age 10 or older. While the direct cause of mammary cancer is still under investigation, research shows that cats who are not spayed have seven times the chance of developing mammary cancer than cats who are spayed. Nearly 85% of mammary tumors are lethal, as the tumor forms underneath the nipple, then spreads rapidly to other areas of the body, including the lungs, kidney, liver, and lymph nodes. 

In cases of widespread cancer, chemotherapy and surgery are the two treatment methods veterinarians typically use. For tumors caught early within the breast, a mastectomy is the best option for the cat and provides a survival rate of up to three years. 

Mast Cell Tumors

Mast cells are part of the immune system, and they work to combat parasites on the skin as well as the intestinal tract and respiratory systems. Mast cell tumors release toxins into the body, resulting in allergic reactions such as swelling, itching, and redness. The tumors located on the skin are cutaneous while internal tumors are visceral. 

Cutaneous mast cell tumors are removed through surgery, and in cases of incomplete removal, the cat will also have radiation therapy. Visceral mast cell tumors are typically located on the spleen, liver, and intestine and are far more serious. Surgery is always the treatment of choice here, as combinations of different chemotherapies are not more successful than surgery. Mast cell tumors most often appear in older cats, with 10 years as the average age of the diagnosis.

Pet insurance will help cover cancer treatment costs

Cancer treatment costs for your cat can add up fast, putting you in a situation where financial strain limits what you can do for your kitty. Initial consultation fees run upwards of $250, chemotherapy is $150 - $500 a dose, radiation therapy can cost between $1000 and $6000, and surgery costs depend on how large the tumor is and its location. These costs are often too high for the average pet parent to handle, and that’s where pet insurance can help. A pet insurance policy will cover a significant portion of cancer care costs, meaning you can worry less about bills and more about what’s most important: your cat. Get a free, personalized pet insurance quote so you can make the best choices for your cat in the future.  

 

References:

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