What are Pancreatic Exocrine Tumors?
Pancreatic cancer is dangerous as it often goes undetected until the aggressive adenocarcinoma has already spread to other organs. These tumors form out of glandular tissue of the pancreas. This cancer often metastasizes to the stomach and then rapidly spreads to the abdomen and liver. At this point, the digestive enzymes that are formed in the pancreas leak out into the abdomen and begin to break down tissue. This is extremely painful for the cat. While early detection of pancreatic cancer may be beneficial, often this form of tumor is fatal.
The pancreas is an internal organ that aids in processing and digesting foods. It serves two main purposes, having an endocrine and an exocrine system. The endocrine role the pancreas plays has to do with regulating blood sugar through the body. The exocrine portion helps to produce enzymes that aid in digestion. It also secretes bicarbonate which decreases stomach acidity. Tumors can develop on the pancreas, although in cats they are rare. Malignant tumors called pancreatic adenocarcinomas are the most commonly seen pancreatic exocrine tumors. Benign tumors occur much less frequently, and are referred to as pancreatic adenomas.
Symptoms of Pancreatic Exocrine Tumors in Cats
Symptoms of pancreatic tumors often go unnoticed for some time. General signs of your cat feeling off may be the first clue that something is wrong. Usually, malignant tumors metastasizing to other organs will cause the first prominent symptoms in the cat, although by that point it is generally too late for the cat to be saved. All possible symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal distension
- Weight loss
- Difficulty breathing
- Bone pain
- Hair loss
Causes of Pancreatic Exocrine Tumors in Cats
The exact cause of pancreatic tumors is unknown. It is thought that a combination of simultaneous circumstances may cause tumors to form. Environment can play a role in cancer development, especially in areas where harmful toxins exits. Genetic susceptibility is also a factor, with certain genes making cancer formation more likely. Pancreatic exocrine tumors are seen more often in older cats. This is because the older the body's cells become, the more likely they are to mutate.
Diagnosis of Pancreatic Exocrine Tumors in Cats
If symptoms have already begun, the outlook for the cat is grim. If tumors are found as part of a routine check-up, or from examination due to another health condition, they may be caught early enough to treat. You will be asked to provide the veterinarian with your cat’s full medical history. The veterinarian will then complete a physical examination on the cat, palpating the abdomen to assess if it is tender or if there is a large mass present.
X-rays and ultrasounds may be used to confirm and locate tumors on the pancreas. They can also be used to determine if tumors have started to form on other organs. Urinalysis can reveal if the liver is functioning properly or of the cat is suffering from dehydration. Blood work including a complete blood count and a biochemical profile may show indications of cancer, however a diagnosis of this condition can not be made on blood tests alone. If the pancreatic tumors happen to be benign, they will grow slowly and may never exhibit symptoms. Often the only way to confirm a diagnosis is by taking a biopsy of one of the tumors during surgery. As cats do not always survive these surgeries, a lab may confirm a case of pancreatic exocrine cancer post mortem.
Treatment of Pancreatic Exocrine Tumors in Cats
If benign tumors are found, they will often be treated the same as malignant tumors as a precaution. If X-rays have shown that malignant tumors have already spread to other organs, no treatment will be administered and euthanasia is likely.
If the veterinarian determines that there is any chance of survival for the cat, surgery may be performed. The goal is to remove the tumors and the surrounding tissue to stop cancer from developing or spreading. General anesthesia is required for this procedure. If more tumors are found than anticipated pre-surgery, the cat may be euthanized in the operating room to prevent any more suffering.
Recovery of Pancreatic Exocrine Tumors in Cats
If benign pancreatic adenomas have been identified and removed, the cat has a good chance of survival. All postoperative care must be followed to ensure the cat heals. The cat may need to be hospitalized for five to seven days after the procedure, at which time it will require both feeding tubes and an IV for fluids. Once the cat has been discharged, you will need to monitor the incision daily to look for any signs of infection, such as redness or swelling. Return the cat to the clinic at once if any signs develop.
The prognosis for malignant pancreatic adenocarcinomas is much worse. Unless the tumors happen to be discovered extremely early, the average survival time post diagnosis is less than three months. If your cat survives surgery, regular veterinary check-up appointments will be needed to watch for possible metastasizing to other organs. There is no way to prevent these tumors from forming. It is best to bring your cat in at least twice a year for a full physical examination once the cat is older than seven years of age. This may help in identifying health issues at their earliest stage.