Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Cats

Squamous cell carcinoma in cats fairly common. This type of cancer is characteristically invasive and fast growing. Regular visits to the vet will help with early diagnosis and prompt treatment. Here is more:

Cancer in Cats

Over the years, cats have been attributed to the emotional, mental and physical support they offer humans either as house pets or as therapy cats.  The warm, non –judgmental, cuddly nature of cats has provided autistic children, depression and anxiety patients with comfort to cope in the environment. Persons with injuries are able to improve muscle movement through petting cats, and Alzheimer’s patients can recount past memories through the oxytocin hormone released when they bond with cats.

So let’s imagine one day, coming back to the house, opening the door and not finding your favorite ‘housemate’ wagging his tail or doing a jiggly dance at the door. Rather he looks unkempt, is coughing and nose bleeding and strains to swallow his food. Because cats are highly intelligent and can easily hide their pain, it may be too late to detect the problem.

A visit to the Veterinary reveals that the cat has symptoms associated with Squamous Cell Carcinoma that also affects humans and that it is a higher risk as the tumor affects middle to older aged cats.

Cancer in cats is not uncommon these days, and though the major causes are yet to be identified, it seems that they are more susceptible to skin-related cancers.  This can be loosely linked to their grooming habits which in our view makes them very clean animals, but it also increases their risk. They transfer toxic and carcinogenic substances from their fur into their oral cavity and subsequently to their system through licking.

Unlike humans who are able to comprehend the effects of cancer and can go through some type of counseling, it is a very traumatizing experience for a cat and an expensive one for its owner, and thus early diagnosis is advised.

Squamous cell carcinoma in cats

It is a type of cancer that usually affects the tissues surrounding the less haired or ‘pink skin’ areas within the cat’s body.  These include the tongue, eyelids, ears, mouth, tonsils, nasal area, lungs and throat area (esophagus).

However, Squamous cell carcinoma has also been detected in pigmented and hairy skin areas of a cat’s body including the limbs and neck.

Treatment of this type of cancer can cost $6000 to $12000 depending on the level and type of treatment that includes diagnosis, surgery, and chemotherapy.

Characteristics

Benign or Malignant in nature

Skin squamous cell carcinoma is usually benign in nature and spreads slowly only in last stages. However, oral squamous cells are quite aggressive in nature and may spread into bones, tissues at later stages while hosting secondary infections.

Location on the body

Depending on where Squamous cell carcinoma occurs, the lesions formed may appear on different parts of the body, on a particular part, be dry or scabby or even be ulcerated.

Types of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

There are three different types of squamous cell carcinoma based on the part of the body affected. These are:

  • Skin Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • Oral/ Gingival Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • Bowenoid Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Skin squamous cell carcinoma

This type of benign tumor affects the less pigmented and sparsely haired areas of a cat’s body. This included the nose tip, eyelids, ears and at times the head.

Causes

It is as a result of long exposure to Ultra Violet rays that affect the body’s DNA by damaging the cells.

Cats love to stand at the window to sunbathe for long hours and depending on the breed and strength of the sun rays they are higher risks of exposure.

Vulnerable cats likely to be affected.

White haired cats are at a higher risk (thirteen times) more than other colored cats. Their lack of pigmentation exposes a major part of their body including their head to violent Ultra violet rays. In fact, white haired blue eyed cats apart from being deaf are at a higher disadvantage due to their genetic ectoderm deficiency which affects their pigment cells. Examples include Turkish Angora, Maine Coon, Devon Rex, Cornish Rex, Russian White and Scottish Fold.

Cats who have pink skin on their faces are also at risk as they also lack pigmentation.

Outdoor cats that are exposed to hot climates.

Cats that live in high altitude areas and urban areas where there is much pollution. The climatic conditions may alter the amount of fur on the cats further exposing, unlike the cats that live in cold, unpolluted areas.

Age

It affects older cats aged between 10-12 years as it is likely from a buildup of carcinogens over the years.

Symptoms

  • Skin irritation where the cat may seem to scratch its face constantly
  • Lacerations on ears, eyelids, nose and head that cause redness and take time to heal
  • Hair loss
  • Nose bleeding
  • A bit of swelling and pain on the affected area

Diagnosis

  • A biopsy of the affected area where a needle sample is taken from the lacerations that are on the ears, nose, and head.
  • Cytology which will involve removal of some cells from the area and examine them to rule out other causes of lesions such as cysts

Treatment

  • Surgeries that remove the affected part such as nose tip.
  • Pinnectomy this is the surgical removal of the ear tip also known as the pinna.
  • Cryosurgery that involves freezing of the affected area
  • Radiation therapy used in cases where the lesion is less than 2milimeters deep on the head and on the nose as it highly aims at the infected lesions by destroying their DNA and curtailing any chances of regrowth.
  • Photodynamic therapy. This is used depending in mild cases and on particularly accessible areas. It combines injection of drugs, or they are placed on the cat’s skin and light to kill cancer cells through oxidation.
  • Early use of anti-inflammatory and antibiotics to reduce swellings and prevent re-infections.

Prevention

  • Use of sunblock for cats in the nose and ears in sunny days but this can be a bit tricky due to Allogrooming.
  • Time limit on hours spent outdoors or near windows for highly susceptible cats.
  • Use of window shades or reflectors that will block direct contact with the UV rays.
  • Use of tattoos for less pigmented cats to act as a protective shield.
  • Early checkup visits to help spot signs of cancer.
  • Curbing indoor pollution including eliminating products that may contain toxins in the households.
  • DO NOT ignore any skin changes on your cat

Bowenoid Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This is also a form of skin cancer that affects areas of the cat’s body that are actually pigmented and hairy. It targets the pigmented areas of the body that don’t receive much sunlight or lack Vitamin A.

Causes

It is caused by type 2 strain of papillomavirus a virus which also affects humans. It is referred to as Bowenoid in situ carcinoma and occurs on the skin’s outer layer.

Age

This also affects colored cats that are ten years and older

Affected breed

Cats of all breeds and colors are susceptible especially those with immune system disorders

Cats infected with the virus.

Symptoms

  • Many, irregular lesions appear on body, limbs, and neck.
  • Changes in skin color around affected area
  • Sores are covered with a dry crusty material
  • Hair loss on affected area

Diagnosis

  • Biopsy of the affected area
  • Histopathological tests to understand the level of manifestation of the disease.
  • Urinalysis

Treatment

  • Cryotherapy which involves freezing of affected part
  • Surgical removal of affected area if possible.
  • Using topical therapy that uses tretinoin a form of vitamin A that will allow renewal of skin that may have discolored.
  • Use of antifungals medication to treat the different areas.

Immunotherapy where there is the use of an imiquimod that will activate the cat’s immune system so that it can fight the virus infection on its own. Antibodies are also used to trigger the process.  An example of the drug in the market Aldara.

Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Medically referred to as Gingival Squamous cell carcinoma, this type of malignant cancer usually affects the mouth, jaws, tongue, lips and tonsils.

Causes

It has been detected in indoor cats whose owners are cigarette smokers. Cats love to snuggle and usually hover around the owner, so they pick up scents and wastes such as sweat, saliva produced by the owners. They are also prone to second-hand smoke which has carcinogenic properties. When they clean themselves through licking, they can transfer the toxic matter from their fur into the mouth directly to the oral cavity.

Cats who wear absorption based flea collars. The collars contain tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur which are highly carcinogenic substances that affect the nerves around the throat area and can also be absorbed by the cat during grooming or also affect others during Allogrooming.

Cats that consume canned foods with high tuna content as tuna contains high levels of mercury which damage the nervous system. They are also heavily preserved with additives and chemicals such as thiaminase which attacks processing of Vitamin B1 thus affect body movements including such as chewing.

Symptoms

  • Loss of appetite as it is not able to chew or swallow food commonly referred as dysphagia
  • Ulcerated sores in the mouth or under the tongue
  • Swollen face
  • Bloody mouth and nose
  • Bad breath also known as halitosis
  • Loss of teeth- the jaws are highly affected
  • Food dropping during meal
  • Weight loss as a result of not eating
  • Drooling or a mouth filled with saliva
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Exhibits pain

Age

It affects older cats aged between 10-12 years as it is likely to be a buildup carcinogen over the years.

Diagnosis

Should be done early. Owners should often check their cat’s mouth- late detection may mean that a cat may not survive long depending on severity. Other tests can include:

Blood work to determine general health.

  • Incisional or excisional biopsy which may include partial or full removal of affected tissue mass confirms the existence and stage of
  • Lymph node biopsy may also be conducted to confirm the spread of the tumor.
  • Computed tomography or skull radiography if the lesions appear on the head.
  • Palpitations that check the extent of swelling of the throat and jaws.
  • X-ray of the chest

Treatment

Surgery to remove the tumor. To avoid re-infection, the surrounding areas may be removed.

Chemotherapy which may involve the oral or direct injection of the tumor with chemical substances that destroy the cancer cell division and possible reproduction.However, it may result in nausea and fur loss in cats increasing chances of risk.

Radiation therapy which may take up to three weeks and targets the cancer cells.

Survival rate- Life Expectancy

Cats diagnosed with oral squamous cell cancer may not live up to one year after diagnosis.This is usually because their food intake level may become quite low even after surgery and medication.

Management

  • Cautionary use of pain medication
  • Limit physical activity to allow for healing
  • Use of feeding tube and diet management and therapy
  • Acupuncture to help rid of toxins.

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