What is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer is much more common in dogs than cats, but cat owners should still be aware of this often fatal disease. Prostate cancer spreads quickly once it appears in cats, so treatment is often ineffective. Nevertheless, if you notice signs of prostate cancer, such as difficulty urinating, you should bring your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Cancer can occur in many areas of a cat’s body, including the prostate, which is a gland in the male reproductive system. Although it is small, it plays an important role: assisting with the production of semen. As male cats age, they are at a higher risk of developing cancerous tumors within the prostate.
Symptoms of Prostate Cancer in Cats
Cats are better than other animals at hiding their pain or discomfort, so owners must pay close attention to spot symptoms of prostate cancer. Some of the symptoms include:
- Discolored urine
- Bloody urine
- Poor or interrupted urine stream
- Trouble urinating
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Pain when touched
Causes of Prostate Cancer in Cats
Just as with humans, there are many potential causes of prostate cancer in cats. Genetics may play a role in determining whether your cat ends up with prostate cancer, but environmental factors such as diet and exposure to toxic chemicals could also affect your cat’s chances. Age is also a factor, so the older your cat is, the more at risk he is of developing prostate cancer.
Although you can certainly lower the risk by having your cat neutered, there is no way to completely prevent prostate cancer.
Diagnosis of Prostate Cancer in Cats
Veterinarians will usually check for signs of prostate cancer during a routine physical, especially if your cat is intact and older. However, owners often bring cats in when they struggle to urinate. You should be prepared to answer questions about the frequency and normality of your cat’s urination. If you have noticed any unusual signs, such as blood in the urine or your cat getting into a strange position to use the bathroom, mention this to the vet.
The vet will perform a quick rectal examination to feel the size and shape of the prostate gland. This may be uncomfortable to your cat, but it shouldn’t last long. The vet will be able to tell there is an issue with the prostate if it feels enlarged or unusually shaped.
At this point, the vet may recommend several tests to eliminate other possible medical conditions. A urine test may be conducted to rule out a urinary tract or kidney infection. Finally, an ultrasound may be used to determine if there are cysts or tumors in the prostate.
If a tumor is spotted, the vet will take a biopsy of the tissue to confirm a cancer diagnosis. If the vet confirms it is prostate cancer, he may then conduct ultrasounds and X-rays on the chest and abdomen to check for signs that the cancer has spread.
Treatment of Prostate Cancer in Cats
The treatment your cat receives will depend on the severity of the prostate cancer. Some prostate cancers can be treated with surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, however this can only be done if the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.
But, prostate cancer is highly metastatic, meaning it usually spreads quickly through the body and cannot be treated with surgery. If the cancer has spread, your vet will most likely recommend chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy treatment is given to the cat through an IV about once every three weeks. The cat may experience side effects from the treatment, including nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite.
Radiation may also be suggested, either by itself or combined with chemotherapy treatments. Unlike chemotherapy, radiation is designed to treat only the cancerous area of the body, therefore reducing the side effects. It is also given in small doses over a period of a few weeks, instead of in three-week intervals like chemotherapy. There are a number of different radiation treatments including palliative-intent radiation therapy, stereotactic radiosurgery, and intensity-modulated and image-guided radiation therapy, so you will need to speak to a veterinary oncologist to choose the right radiation therapy for your cat.
Recovery of Prostate Cancer in Cats
Unfortunately, many cases of prostate cancer have spread by the time it is diagnosed. The further the cancer has spread, the harder it is to treat. However, it is difficult to predict how well your cat will recover from prostate cancer since each case is unique, just as it is with humans. Even if your vet does not think it is possible for your cat to recover, palliative treatments can be provided to make your cat more comfortable for the remainder of his life.
It is important to note that even if your cat does experience a full recovery from prostate cancer, a recurrence is always possible. You will need to speak with your veterinarian to determine how often you should bring your cat in so he can monitor the cat’s health.