What is Pancreatic Cancer?
If a veterinarian diagnoses your cat with pancreatic cancer, it means your cat has a malignant tumor affecting the function of her pancreas. Your veterinarian may also refer to this tumor as a pancreatic adenocarcinoma, which distinguishes it from a non-benign tumor, or pancreatic adenoma. Adenocarcinomas are serious and often fatal. It is extremely important that you contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your cat may be suffering from pancreatic cancer.
Your cat’s pancreas is responsible for the production of digestive enzymes and insulin. The pancreas is a critically important organ for digestion and the maintenance of healthy blood sugars. Any type of pancreatic insufficiency, the failure of the pancreas to produce the enzymes and hormones for which it is responsible, is serious and potentially fatal for your cat. One condition that may lead to pancreatic insufficiency in cats is a malignant or nonmalignant tumor.
Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer in Cats
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer in cats may not manifest until late in the disease process. The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are very similar to those of pancreatitis, and your veterinarian will likely perform tests to eliminate a diagnosis of pancreatitis if he suspects your cat may have pancreatic cancer. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately if your cat is exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
If pancreatic cancer has advanced and spread to other organs, your cat may exhibit symptoms not specific to any one organ system, such as:
- Bone or skeletal pain
- Labored breathing
- Hair loss
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
Causes of Pancreatic Cancer in Cats
The exact cause of pancreatic cancer in cats is not understood at this time. Pancreatic cancer is more common among older cats, suggesting it may be related to advanced age or a combination of risk factors. Some cats and cat breeds are also genetically predisposed to cancer, suggesting there may be an inherited genetic component.
Diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer in Cats
Your veterinarian will begin the diagnostic process with a comprehensive physical examination and collection of a comprehensive medical history. If the tumor is large enough, your veterinarian may palpate the mass near your cat's pancreas. While this is a good clue that a cat has a pancreatic tumor, it is not a definitive method of diagnosis.
The next step in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in cats is the collection of urine and blood samples. Your veterinarian will order a chemistry profile, complete blood count and urine culture performed on these samples. Pancreatic cancer in cats typically manifests in labs as elevated white blood cells, low potassium, elevated bilirubin (jaundice), azotemia (build-up of metabolic waste in the blood), elevated blood sugars, and elevated liver enzymes. However, a cat whose cancer has not progressed may not exhibit any of these clinical findings. In that event, further diagnostic tests may be ordered.
Radiography (x-ray) imaging may show fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity. Ultrasonography may be used to visualize a soft mass over the pancreas.The only conclusive test for pancreatic cancer in cats, however, is a biopsy of the mass guided by an ultrasound or exploratory surgery. Your veterinarian will weigh the risk of performing these diagnostic procedures against the benefit of a confirmatory diagnosis.
Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer in Cats
If your veterinarian chooses to perform exploratory surgery, he will likely remove part or all of your cat's pancreas at the time of surgery. If the cancer has not metastasized and spread at this point, the chance of uncomplicated recovery is great.
In the event a cat's cancer has spread, as with late-stage cancers, your veterinarian may attempt surgical resection of the tumors. The success rate of this surgery is low, however. Unfortunately, there has been little success using radiation therapy or chemotherapy to treat pancreatic cancer in cats.
Recovery of Pancreatic Cancer in Cats
While advanced stages of pancreatic cancer in cats may carry a grave prognosis, there are some pain management and anti-inflammatory options to offer cats relief. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are useful to reduce inflammation of the pancreas and relieve pain.
Following surgery for diagnosis or tumor resection, the surgical site should be kept clean. Follow-up appointments with your veterinarian are crucial while the surgical site is healing to prevent infection or complications.
A cat with pancreatic cancer may also suffer unpleasant gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Follow-up appointments with your veterinarian are important to keep a cat comfortable through these symptoms. A veterinarian may prescribe medications or a special diet to aid digestion.
Pancreatic Cancer Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Isis is a 13 years old siamese. She has been vomiting 3/4 times a day, is VERY hungry all the time, she's losing a lot of weight, looks very skinny. We took her to the vet and has pancreatic insufficiency. He said it's most likely pancreatic cancer but wants to do a ecography. She's been like this for almost two months, but she still jumps, runs, purrs. I'd like to know if she might be able to get surgery and get chemo, or if it will only make her suffer. She already had breast cancer but recovered well, about a year and a half ago. I'd like to know what's the best option. Thank you.
If there is pancreatic cancer, treatment can be in vain as the efficacy of radiotherapy and chemotherapy is limited. I would wait the results of an ultrasound or exploratory laparotomy (which would provide a biopsy sample) before determining the treatment or prognosis. Without having further information, a decision cannot be made regarding treatment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
I just found out by X-ray this afternoon that our fur baby has pancreatic cancer he is our world but we refuse to put him through biopsies and any further tests. Give your fur baby the best days and ease his pain. Ours spent 5 years with diabetes, went into remission in January but then developed chronic vomiting and diarrhea. Put him on a couple antibiotics, cerenia for the vomiting, prednisolone for the IBD but had to take him off due to elevated glucose levels. Today's X-rays showed fluid in abdomen, enlarged liver and pancreatic cancer. 😢
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Recently Misty had lost a lot of weight. A couple of days ago we noticed some yellowing around her mouth and ears. She has recently turned 15 years old. Misty has had a relatively healthy life with no major medical issues. All of this happened recently
With Misty’s age, there are numerous different possible problems; the yellowing of the skin would be an indicator of jaundice and liver health. I would highly recommend having a full blood test performed so that liver and kidney health can be determined and would be useful for a cat her age. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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We reviewed an ultrasound with our vet today and he found a 2 cm dark area and suspects a tumor. Midnight (birth date: Jan 9 2005) is not showing any visible symptoms except very minor hair loss towards the back of his hind legs. His stomach is not distended and he is not jaundiced. He doesn't experience any pain when we put pressure on his tummy. His b.m.'s are normal, but we saw evidence of an inflamed bladder. His breathing is fine and he has been vomiting very little since we changed from turkey to salmon a few months ago. My partner and I are open to diet change if it will help his quality of life. I know that there's no way to know exactly how or when Midnight will die, but I just want to know if we could narrow it down to a year or 6 months? Ultimately, I just want to give him the best quality of life that I can and right now, he is still his same loving self. How do I know when things are bad or when he is suffering and needs to go and how can I make things as comfortable and loving and peaceful for him as possible? Thank you so much. - Sam
I am assuming the tumour was discovered on Midnights pancreas, usually cats with tumours of the pancreas have a lifespan measured in months rather than years; however there are exceptions and it is impossible to give a definitive timeframe as each cat reacts differently and is also dependent on the current progression of the cancer (most cancers are caught when the cat is showing severe symptoms). There is no direct treatment, surgery is an option but may be futile in malignant tumours; but unless a biopsy is taken we are unsure about the type of tumour and the overall prognosis. Regular checks of Midnight are important to monitor the progression; regular x-rays will help to determine if there has been any spread of the tumour. A diet like Hills i/d may be beneficial. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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