What is Ovarian Neoplasia?

Ovarian neoplasia in pet birds is more common than one might think.  While it seems to be more prevalent in birds over the age of 2 years and especially in those who have had several reproductive cycles with breeding, it can occur at any age of the bird. As in humans, ovarian neoplasia doesn’t present with symptoms which can be markedly consistent with cancerous tumor development, but rather is generally not found until it is in an advanced stage of development, making this a serious and dangerous situation for birds as in humans.

Ovarian neoplasia can be defined as an abnormal growth of tissue.  Tumors can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).  The term ovarian refers to a part of the reproductive system of the bird in question.

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Symptoms of Ovarian Neoplasia in Birds

As noted above, ovarian neoplasia exists in female birds much like it exists in female humans.  Just as in human females, ovarian neoplasia can be benign or it can be malignant and, just as in human females, it isn’t something for which we have testing to determine its presence or the stage of development it is in at any particular time unless symptoms present that require specialized testing and imaging.  Some of the symptoms which have been reported ovarian neoplasia in birds are:

  • Chronic egg-laying
  • Abnormal swelling/fluid retention in abdominal area
  • Lethargy 
  • Infertility
  • Long periods of nesting behavior without egg production
  • Abnormal swelling of abdomen causing “egg-bound” condition - in ability to pass the egg
  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia

Types  

There are many types of internal neoplasia which can develop in birds, many of which can develop anywhere in the body, whether human or avian.  Here are some which can develop within the abdominal cavity, many of which have various cell origins:

  • Liposarcomas
  • Fibrosarcomas
  • Squamous cell carcinomas
  • Lymphoma/lymphosarcoma
  • Ovarian neoplasia 
  • Pancreatic neoplasia
  • Renal carcinoma
  • Hepatic adenocarcinoma

Some of these neoplasms can develop in the ovaries while others are specific to kidneys (renal) or liver (hepatic) or pancreas (pancreatic) but the types, such as  sarcomas or carcinomas, are possibilities in or on the ovaries in birds.

Causes of Ovarian Neoplasia in Birds

While the research information with regard to neoplasia in birds is limited, many veterinary professionals feel that viruses are at the root of their development.  Specifically, herpes virus has been noted as a causative factor. Additionally, here are some viruses which are considered high on the lists of transmission: 

  • Marek’s disease virus (MDV)
  • Avian leukosis virus (ALV) 
  • Reticuloendotheliosis virus (REV)

These are viruses known to be prevalent all across the globe and have been associated with the development of neoplasia in various bird species. The transmission of these viruses is both horizontal (passed by direct contact) and vertical (passed to offspring - in this case via the eggs produced and hatched), making these virus available to birds of all species regardless of their location.

Diagnosis of Ovarian Neoplasia in Birds

When suspicion exists of ovarian neoplasia, or neoplasia anywhere in your bird, getting your veterinary professional involved at the earliest possible stage is vital for the survival of your bird.  This is especially so with tumors which may be developing on or in the ovaries of your bird since they are not as easily discerned as tumors elsewhere in the avian body.  Your veterinary professional will need a complete history from you as well as the thorough physical examination which he will do. The history required from you will likely need to address symptoms and  behaviors noted, feed being given and the feeding regimen, reproductive activities and egg production at the minimum.  

This combined information will likely cause him to obtain blood, tissue samples and potentially fluid samples for pathological review. He will also likely require some diagnostic imaging via ultrasonography, radiography and CT imaging for further clarification.  The information gained from the laboratory review will provide him with the information needed to develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Treatment of Ovarian Neoplasia in Birds

Treatment of neoplasia in birds, whether ovarian or otherwise, will be dependent upon the stage of development at which it was found.  In the case of ovarian neoplasia, just as with human females, it is found more often than not  when it has reached an advanced stage of development.  The advanced stage of development frequently makes surgical removal questionable at best and quite dangerous at the least. Chemotherapy and radiation options are available in birds just as they are in the human species.  In the case of radiation treatments in birds, it has been found that tumors in birds are less responsive to treatment by radiation than is found in humans and other mammals.

Chemotherapy options exist for ovarian neoplasia as well as for those neoplasia found elsewhere in the body.  Responses to the various chemotherapeutic agents varies from bird species to bird species but some successful results have been obtained.  There are new agents being developed as research continues and this is also true for focused radiation treatments as well as new surgical procedures which have also proven to be beneficial for birds.

Recovery of Ovarian Neoplasia in Birds

The bottom line to all of the above is that discovery of a potentially cancerous neoplasm in your bird doesn’t necessarily mean it is a death sentence.  That being said, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting medical advice at the earliest possible time if you note changes in the behaviors or the appearance of your bird, regardless of how subtle those changes might be.  As in humans and other mammals, early detection is the key to higher rates of survival of the host, regardless of species or type of cancer detected.  Research is ongoing into better methods of detection and treatment of the various types of neoplasia found in birds and other animal species.