Pets can get skin cancer too

Phoenix the 15-year-old cat came into the Pukekohe clinic for a wound on his nose that wasn’t healing. Unfortunately, the suspicious lesion was squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer but luckily the affected area was still small and didn’t go deeply into the tissue.

There are a few different methods of treatment for this type of cancerous lesion. With Phoenix, we elected to burn the cancerous cells away, which obviously needs to be done under an anaesthetic. Other methods include using liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill the cells or performing surgery to cut out the affected tissue. The benefit of performing burning or freezing on the nose is that with small lesions the affected area heals with normal tissue and they have a normal appearance afterwards.

After a week Phoenix had a nice healthy scab over the area and his nose was healing well.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a sun-induced skin cancer most commonly seen in light-coloured animals. In cats, we see it most commonly on the nose and ears and occasionally the eyelids-areas where there is little or no hair with white or pink skin. In dogs, we most commonly see it on the bellies of pale-skinned dogs who love to sunbathe on their backs. Animals will present with sun-induced damage which causes precancerous changes. These are often seen as a scab that comes and goes but over time these lesions turn cancerous and start to invade deeper into the tissue causing ulcers and then loss of tissue. Thankfully, it is very rare for the cancer to spread, however, multiple lesions can occur that all arise independently of each other.

To try and prevent this cancer from occurring it is important to be aware of the risk with pale-skinned or thin-haired animals and to try to avoid too much sunlight (including through windows) and use an appropriate sunblock such as the filtaclear.

Dr Nikki Frost BSc, BVSc, MANZCVS (Medicine of Cats), Senior Vet at Pukekohe

Phoenix SCC


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