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Squamous cell carcinoma can occur in various portions of the oral cavity of your cat, including the tonsils. Also known as tonsil cancer, this condition is fast growing, making early detection critical to a good outcome for your cat.
Tonsils in both animals and humans play a vital role in protecting the body from outside contaminants including pollutants and irritants and bacteria that may cause infection. The tonsils, like the rest of the surfaces in the mouth, are covered by a layer of tissue called the epithelium. The very outer layer of the epithelium is covered with squamous cells. Squamous cell carcinoma is a common form of cancer in which the squamous cells have mutated unnaturally and rapidly reproduce and take over healthy neighboring cells.
Since the tonsils are located near the rear of your cat’s mouth and throat area, initial tumors and cancer can be difficult to notice. There are additional symptoms of tonsil cancer that you should watch for in your cat.
The cause of tonsil cancer in cats, like most types of cancer, is currently unknown. There are many scientific studies that have shown a correlation between oral cancers in cats and exposure to environmental carcinogens. Cats living in urban or city environments are more likely to develop tonsil cancer than cats living in rural areas. Cats that are exposed to tobacco smoke are also more likely to develop tonsil cancer than those who live in smoke-free homes.
Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination of your cat when diagnosing tonsil cancer. You should provide your veterinarian with a complete medical history. You should also document and provide your vet with an approximate timeline for the onset of symptoms. This will be helpful in determining how aggressive your cat’s cancer is.
Your veterinarian will examine and manipulate the lymph nodes in your cat’s neck. Lymph nodes are indicators of immune response in your cat. A biopsy of the tissue of the lymph nodes, taken through a large gauge needle, is minimally invasive and will help determine the cause of any swelling. Your veterinarian will also be able to conduct a thorough oral exam of your cat. They will be looking for loose or missing teeth and discoloration of gums and will insert special probes to assist in looking to the back of the mouth area at the tonsils.
If tumors are located, the vet will attempt to collect a biopsy of the tissue to confirm tonsil cancer in your cat. Your veterinarian may also order a full blood profile at this time to identify any systematic spread. Finally, x-rays can help determine whether the cancer has spread to the underlying bone structure of the jaw and head.
Unfortunately, by the time the symptoms of tonsil cancer in your cat have become noticeable, the fast growing squamous cell carcinoma tumor will be large enough that surgery is unlikely to excise all of the cancer. In some cases, the tumors will be isolated enough that your veterinarian will attempt to surgically remove the cancer. It will be important for your veterinarian to obtain clean edges, or an area surrounding the cancer tumor that is free of any cancerous cells. Otherwise, the cancer could return.
If surgery is not an option, your veterinarian may recommend chemotherapy. Chemotherapy administers strong medication that attacks the cancer cells. Chemotherapy can also attack healthy cells, causing significant damage to your cat. Chemotherapy can also weaken your cat’s immune system and cause lack of appetite or lethargy. Chemotherapy does effectively slow the growth of tumors. Chemotherapy rarely eliminates tumors, and is generally considered a palliative form of treatment, meaning it improves your pet’s quality of life but does not eliminate the disease.
Complete recovery from oral cancer, including tonsil cancer in cats, is rare. In cases where surgery is viable, cancer often returns to the same or surrounding areas. Additionally, by the time the symptoms of tonsil cancer have become noticeable, the disease will have often progressed past the point where surgery is possible or effective.
Oral cancers also often spread to other soft tissues without the mouth and can also affect the structural underlying bone. Once cancer has spread to the nearby located lymph nodes, rapid spread throughout the body is soon to follow. Management consists of medications, chemotherapy or other treatment that can make your cat comfortable and potentially extend its life.
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