What is Tongue Cancer?
Oral squamous cell carcinoma is one of the more common forms of cancer in cats. Around 10 percent of all tumors in cats occur in the mouth. While oral cancer can occur anywhere in the mouth, the tongue is a common area of occurrence. Though tongue cancer in cats does not tend to metastasize, or spread, to other areas of your cat’s body, it is an aggressive form of cancer that can grow rapidly in size. As the rapidly growing tumor damages more of your cat’s oral tissue, the available options for treatment will decrease, and prognosis for full recovery will lessen. It is therefore important that oral cancer be identified and diagnosed quickly so that appropriate treatment can begin as soon as possible.
Symptoms of Tongue Cancer in Cats
The symptoms of tongue cancer in your cat will begin as minor and quickly escalate as the tumor grows. What is a minor inconvenience to your cat one week may quickly become a hindrance for eating the next, given the small size of the oral cavity. Symptoms to watch for include:
- Excessive drooling
- Difficulty eating or drinking
- Bad breath
- White growths on tongue
- Change in appearance or shape of tongue
- Tongue lolling out of mouth
- Ulcers or blood on tongue
- Indication of pain such as scratching or pawing at mouth
Causes of Tongue Cancer in Cats
Like most cancers, the exact cause of tongue cancer in cats is unknown. The most common type of tongue cancer is a type called squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer affects the epithelial, or skin, cells of the tongue. Some studies have found a significantly higher incidence of tongue cancer in cats that live in households of smokers. Environmental causes, such as exposure to tobacco smoke, are known causes of cancer in general.
Diagnosis of Tongue Cancer in Cats
Diagnosis of tongue cancer in your vat will begin with a thorough physical exam. At your initial appointment with your veterinarian you should bring a complete medical history as well as a timeline of any symptoms you’ve noticed. An approximate timeframe of worsening of symptoms compared with approximate onset of the condition can be helpful in determining how aggressive the cancer is in your cat.
During the exam your vet will pay especial attention to the area under the tongue of your cat. He or she will also examine the jaw area to see if there is uneven size or shape, which could indicate the tongue cancer has spread to the bones of the jaw area. Your veterinarian will also take x-rays to help determine whether there has been any damage to the bony areas of the jaw and head. Finally, your vet will take a biopsy of any tumor.
A biopsy is the definitive tool used to diagnose the presence of cancer. Depending on the location of the tumor and the temperament of your cat, a vet may be able to biopsy the tongue tumor with a small needle that captures a small number of cells. In other cases, your cat will need to undergo anesthesia in order for the veterinarian to gain access to the area. The biopsy will then be examined under a microscope either in your veterinarian’s office or an offsite laboratory which will identify the presence of any cancer cells.
Treatment of Tongue Cancer in Cats
Treatment of tongue cancer in your cat will depend on the severity and location of the cancer tumor and the age of your cat. There are two main methods of treatment for tongue cancer in cats.
Surgical Removal of Tumor
If the cancer has been caught early on and has not grown too large or spread throughout the mouth, your vet may be able to remove the cancer. This will involve your cat being placed under anesthesia and oral surgery being performed. The vet will work to remove as much of the tumor as possible in order to prevent the tongue cancer from returning. This may involve removing a significant portion of your cat’s tongue.
Chemotherapy and Radiation
In some cases, surgery may not be possible due to numerous factors, including tumor size and location. In these cases, your veterinarian may prescribe chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy involves administering powerful cancer-attacking drugs to your cat. Chemotherapy has many side effects and may weaken your cat’s immune system. Decreased appetite and general lethargy are other side effects of chemotherapy. Certain drugs may reduce the negative effects of chemotherapy.
Radiation is generally not a recommended treatment for tongue cancer in cats given the proximity of the tumor to the brain, eyes and other important organs that are severely sensitive to radiation.
In some cases, treatment options may be reduced to palliative care, in which your cat is given medications that keep them pain free and reduce symptoms to improve their quality of life.
Recovery of Tongue Cancer in Cats
Prognosis for recovery from tongue cancer in cats is dependent on how soon the condition is diagnosed. If caught early and successful surgical removal of the tumor occurs, a cat’s quality and length of life may be significantly improved. In many cases, treatment will only prolong the life of the cat by months. As a whole, prognosis is generally not good for advanced cases due to the rapid growth and invasive nature of this type of cancer.