Lumps and bumps are a common finding in dogs and cats of any age and of either gender. When evaluating any type of mass it is important to look at several criteria to help determine if it is something we should be concerned about. Those benchmarks include:
- How old is the patient? It is not typical to see aggressive tumors in younger patient. There are a few tumor types that do target younger patients however most of those are not aggressive.
- What species is the patient? Some tumors are more common in certain species; others are more aggressive. For example, mammary tumors in cats tend to have a much greater frequency of being malignant or cancerous than they do in dogs. Likewise species will affect our prognosis. Certain tumor types respond to therapy better in one species but not as well in others.
- What breed is the patient? Many tumors have breed predilections. Some carry a worse prognosis in certain breeds. The classic example of this is the mast cell tumor seen in Boxers. Another would be an increased incidence in lipomas in Schnauzers andLabradors. We see more of these in overweight patients.
- Is the patient spayed or neutered? Hormones can play a significant role in the formation of certain tumors. Tumors are more common in the non-altered patient. This is one of the basic benefits of spaying or neutering your pet. Those tumors most commonly affected by the presence of a reproductive tract include perineal adenomas, mammary gland carcinomas and prostatic tumors. All these are found much less frequently in spayed or neutered patients.
- Is the lump hard or soft? Fatty nodules or lipomas are one of the more common types of masses we see. These are soft accumulations of fat and typically solitary. They are not usually aggressive. However, many of our more aggressive types of tumors are hard to the touch so a general feel of the tumor helps to determine our course of action.
- Is the mass ulcerated? Masses that are ulcerated offer a couple of problems. Being ulcerated is typically an indication that the core is necrotic and thus is a constant source of infection. Additionally, most ulcerated masses are rapidly growing where the mass has outgrown the blood supply resulting in the necrosis. Ulceration is one of those key signs that a tumor needs to be removed.
- Where is the mass located? Certain tumors have an affinity for certain locations on the body and this may help to determine the course of treatment. Remember the feline mammary gland example? When these tumors are found, our first thought should be surgical removal. Splenic as well as tumors in the mouth follow the same criteria.
- Is the mass solitary or are there many masses or other “bumps”? Aggressive tumors spread through the body using either the blood or lymphatic system. Those utilizing the lymph system frequently present with multiple swollen lymph nodes. This is a key factor in determining our course of treatment as well as prognosis.
- Is the mass bothersome? While many tumors may not be cancerous, they may require attention if they are causing an annoyance to the owner or patient. For example, tumors on the ear may increase head shaking while tumors in the ear canal may lead to greater frequency of infections. Tumors on the feet and legs may result in gait abnormalities leading to increased incidences of arthritis and other joint problems. So while a tumor might not be malignant or cancerous, many times it does require attention.
There is only one true method to determine what type of tumor our pets have. That requires getting a sample of the cells that compose the tumor and having them classified microscopically by a pathologist. This can be done by pulling off some cells or by removing the tumor.