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What is Skin Tumor?

A skin tumor in cats originated from the skin’s squamous cells and is therefore termed, squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma tumors are believed to be a result of high levels of UVA and UVB sun exposure. Thus, white-skinned cats and lightly pigmented felines are at a higher risk for contracting these skin growths. Although skin tumors can affect any breed of feline, no matter the age or sex, older felines do have a high report rate of skin tumor contraction.

An irregularly shaped lump or bump on a feline’s skin, or a strange skin sore that takes several month to heal, could be a clinical sign of a skin tumor. The skin is the body’s largest organ, therefore, a skin tumor can emerge from just about anywhere on a cat’s body. The head, ears and face are the most common areas pet owners have reported seeing a skin tumor in their cats, but others could have simply gone unnoticed. A skin tumor can appear as a red, irregular shaped lump on the skin that may bleed, or expel thick fluids. The feline may lick or rub the affected area, as these skin tumors are often painful to the touch. 

Symptoms of Skin Tumor in Cats

Skin tumors in cat have a variable appearance, but can be noted on the skin as cauliflower-like, reddened, raised or deep, isolated formations. The tumors are likely to develop on the pinna of the ears and face, but can be noted on any skin site. The symptoms related to the squamous cell carcinoma skin tumor in cats can include: 

  • Decreased grooming 
  • Pain 
  • Swelling 
  • Licking 
  • Localized bleeding 
  • Localized discharge 
  • Rubbing of the face (if the tumor is located on the face) 
  • Delayed healing time 
  • Skin discoloration 
  • Alopecia (hair loss)

Causes of Skin Tumor in Cats

The exact reason a feline may develop a skin tumor is not fully understood, but is often a result of culminated circumstances that affect one individual greater than another. Tumors are an overproduction of cells, an abnormality of the body’s response to cell production. The common link veterinarians find between skin tumors and this cell growth abnormality, is an overexposure to sunlight. Sunlight exposes feline to UVA and UVB radiation, resulting in cellular damage if high levels of exposure is present. This non-lethal mutation of the cells is unrepairable, as the DNA nucleic acid genome has been altered and the cells in that located area can no longer function properly. Experts believe that the cells then rapidly replenish themselves, creating a squamous cell carcinoma tumor. 

Taking the expert’s theoretical reason for feline squamous cell carcinoma tumor development, it stands to reason that white or light pigmented skinned felines are at higher risk for contraction. Middle-aged and older cats are commonly diagnosed with skin tumors, but a squamous cell carcinoma can affect a feline of any age.

Diagnosis of Skin Tumor in Cats

Skin tumors are often found during a routine check-up at the veterinary clinic, as lumps and bumps are often felt on the skin during a physical examination. The clinical appearance of the tumor often clues the veterinarian that the lump is likely a tumor and will require a biopsy. A fine needle aspiration is often taken from the affected tissue to perform the biopsy, which will pinpoint the cancerous nature of said mass. Once the skin tumor has been identified, the veterinarian will likely conduct a health screening to assess the feline’s ability to handle treatment. Health screening exams usually include a urinalysis, blood work, and x-rays to determine if the cancer has spread to other areas in the body.

Treatment of Skin Tumor in Cats

The treatment of choice for the majority of cats with a skin tumor is surgical removal. Surgery is often completed early in a feline’s treatment plant to prevent the tumor from maturing or spreading to other areas of the body. Your veterinarian may choose to postpone surgical removal of the affected area if the tumor is in a difficult location, or is rather large. Following surgery, or if surgical removal is not possible, the veterinarian may prescribe a course of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

Recovery of Skin Tumor in Cats

The prognosis of a skin tumor in cats following therapy is excellent for most felines. The biological behavior of the tumor and location of the tumor often compromises the treatment option for some cats, resulting in a less optimistic outcome. In this case, supportive care can be given to the feline to provide comfort and stability for the duration of the cat’s short-term prognosis. The key to a positive prognosis of a skin tumor in cats is early detection and prompt treatment.