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Malignant tumors are caused by cancer, while benign tumors are growths that aren’t cancerous and won’t spread to other areas of the mouth. Malignant tumors of the gums are far more common in cats than benign tumors, and can be fatal if not detected early. Other types of malignant tumors can include fibrosarcoma and osteosarcoma.
Tumors on a cat’s gums can be a serious condition, depending on the type of tumor. There are two types of gum tumors that may affect a cat – benign tumors, including gingival fibroma and epulides, and malignant tumors, most commonly from squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
Symptoms may differ depending on whether or not the tumor is benign or malignant. However, the following symptoms are typically the most common despite tumor type:
If your cat is exhibiting these symptoms, examine your cat’s mouth carefully for growths. These may be quite small and bumpy in texture. It’s very important that you take your cat to the vet right away if you spot what you think may be a tumor.
The early stages of squamous cell carcinoma may be difficult to detect, as tumors may be mistaken for ulcers associated with other types of dental diseases. However, early detection and diagnosis are imperative for your cat’s survival.
Oral cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer diagnosed in cats. SCC typically manifests in cats older than 12 years old on average, though cats as young as 3 years old may develop the disease.
The causes of the condition are not fully understood. However, veterinarians have identified some possible causes of SCC:
Cats who live in a household with an active smoker are twice as likely to develop SCC as living in a smoke-free household.
Pesticides in feline flea collars are a potential cause of oral tumors. Flea collars increase the risk of developing oral cancer by five times.
Cats that eat canned food are three times more likely to develop SCC compared to those on a dry diet. For cats that eat canned tuna regularly, that risk increases to five times.
First, your vet will perform an oral examination, looking carefully for lesions in the oral cavity. Benign tumors may affect a small area, such as a single tooth. Malignant tumors, however, are likely to spread rapidly to other parts of the mouth.
The vet may choose to take a biopsy, a blood test, an aspiration of the lymph nodes, or a CT scan to analyze tumors in the oral cavity. A blood test will reveal additional health problems that may be a cause of the tumors. An aspiration, which will involve the use of a small needle to collect a cell sample, will show if the growth is cancerous or just inflamed tissue. A CT scan will show the extent of cancer, including whether or not it has spread to the lungs.
Benign tumors are typically treated with surgery and a prescribed oral rinse. If an oral rinse is given, you will likely need to use it until the surgery site has completely healed.
Following the diagnosis, your vet will most likely place your cat under general anesthetic and start surgery. Surgery on aggressive malignant tumors is invasive and often involves partial or full removal of the lower or upper jaw, depending on where the tumor is located. If the tumor is inoperable, radiation treatment and chemotherapy may be administered.
However, even with surgery, chances are good that the tumors will come back. Unfortunately, cases of SCC or other types of malignant tumors that are not detected early have a bleak prognosis for survival. So far, the best courses of treatment for SCC at present are those that combine surgery and radiation therapy techniques.
The vet or surgeon will likely keep your cat in the veterinary hospital for anywhere from 2-5 days after surgery, or until they can eat soft foods. A follow-up appointment will be scheduled within two weeks following the surgery.
Pain can be managed using pain medications administered at home. Always be sure to ask your vet which medications are safest for your cat. For optimum healing and recovery, don’t allow your cat to physically overexert themselves following surgery. Additionally, don’t allow them to play with or chew a ball or similar toy for 2-4 weeks, as this may cause the wound to re-open and become infected.
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