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What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer (adenocarcinoma) is an overgrowth of cells that make up the sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands are the oil secreting glands that lubricate the skin and fur. If cells that make up a gland overgrow, a firm, raised growth will appear on the skin. Skin adenocarcinomas are most frequently found on the eyelids, face and head, though they can appear anywhere on the body. The growth may be itchy and become red and inflamed, bleed, or develop an infection. Adenocarcinomas in dogs are often benign and surgical removal has a positive prognosis.The most common tumor appearance in dogs is the skin tumor. Not always correlated to frequent sun exposure, some breeds are at a higher risk of having skin tumors than others. This includes Boxers and Retrievers. Age does play a factor, with later stage adults and seniors being the most frequent to display symptoms. Tumors are grouped into two segmentations, benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous). If you notice a lump or build-up, on your dogs body (especially face), see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

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Symptoms of Skin Cancer in Dogs

Characteristics of skin adenocarcinoma in dogs:

  • Common in dogs 7 years and older
  • One or more “wart-like” growths on the skin, 2mm to 1cm in diameter
  • May appear anywhere but frequently seen on eyelids, face or head
  • Yellow, brown or black in color
  • Loss of hair on and/or around the growth
  • Itchiness
  • Redness or inflammation
  • Bleeding or ulceration
  • May develop secondary infection

Skin adenocarcinomas fall into three general types:

  • Sebaceous Adenoma - Sebaceous adenomas are an overgrowth of sebocytes (the secreting cells of the sebaceous gland). The growth may extend into the subcutaneous tissues.
  • Sebaceous Ductal Adenoma - Sebaceous ductal adenomas are formed from the sebaceous gland ducts and are made up of keratin and oil. They may extend deep into the dermis.
  • Sebaceous Epithelioma - Sebaceous gland epitheliomas are comprised of the basal progenitor cells. They contain melanocytes and may appear dark in color.

Growths located on the eyelids arise from Meibomian sebaceous glands. These tumors are identical to those located elsewhere on the body but are referred to as “Meibomian adenomas.”

Causes of Skin Cancer in Dogs

The exact cause of skin adenocarcinomas is unknown. These growths are not infectious and not transmitted between animals or from animals to humans. Risk factors include:

  • Hormonal dysfunction
  • Age (dogs over the age of 7 years)
  • Genetic predisposition (breeds include Basset Hounds, Beagles, Cairn Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Miniature Poodles, Samoyeds, Shih Tzus, Siberian Huskies, and West Highland White Terriers)

Diagnosis of Skin Cancer in Dogs

If you notice a lump on your pet’s skin, it is always a good idea to schedule an appointment to bring the pet in for an examination. It is very important to bring your pet to the veterinarian if you notice a growth changing in size, shape or color or if you notice bleeding or pet discomfort (itching, chewing at the site).

Visual examination of a skin mass can give the veterinarian an idea of the type of growth. Definitive diagnosis is made through microscopic examination of tissue.

Tissue Collection Methods:
  • Fine needle aspirate – a needle is inserted into the mass to collect contents. The contents are ejected onto the surface of a microscopic slide for examination.
  • Biopsy – a small portion of the mass is removed and placed in formalin (or other preservative) to be examined.
  • Impression Smear – a microscopic slide is pressed against the mass (often used with ulcerated masses) to transfer cells for examination.
Tissue Examination Methods:
  • Cytology – a slide preparation is examined for the presence of abnormal cells. Often used for rapid or preliminary screening.
  • Histopathology – examination of tissue that has been prepared and stained. Samples are often sent to a laboratory for examination and diagnosis by a veterinary pathologist (may take longer than 24 hours).

X-rays or ultrasound may be performed to rule out the presence of internal masses or metastasis.

Treatment of Skin Cancer in Dogs

Once the veterinarian has examined the growth and cytology, the most common treatment route is surgical removal. The majority of skin adenocarcinomas are benign, technically an overgrowth of cells rather than a malignant tumor with metastatic potential.

Surgical Removal

Surgical removal of small growths can be done under local anesthesia during the veterinary appointment in most cases. Anesthetic is injected in and around the growth under the skin. After a few minutes, the growth is cut from the skin with a surgical blade and the area sutured closed and bandaged.


Surgical removal of larger growths, growths in vulnerable areas (like the eyelid, nose, ears), or growths deep under the skin may require general anesthesia for surgical removal. An appointment will be made for another day and the pet will undergo surgery to remove the growth and be released the same day if there are no complications.


After surgical removal, the veterinarian may send the growth out for histopathology to determine that the entire mass was indeed excised.


If a skin adenocarcinoma is determined to be malignant, radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy may be used to destroy any remaining cancer cells and prevent growth in other areas.

Rate of regrowth is low with benign skin adenocarcinomas as long as the entire mass has been removed. Skin adenocarcinomas tend to develop on numerous areas of the skin throughout the years so the pet may require future growths to be removed.

Sebaceous epitheliomas have a higher rate of regrowth and may recur after surgery.

Recovery of Skin Cancer in Dogs

If your pet has had a growth removed, he may need to revisit the veterinarian weekly for 2-3 weeks to examine healing. Your pet may need an Elizabethan collar (e-collar or cone) to prevent scratching at or licking the incision site.

Be sure to administer any pain medications and/or antibiotics as directed by your veterinarian to keep the pet comfortable and prevent infection. The incision site should heal within 2-3 weeks if no infection or difficulties arise. Report any bleeding, redness, swelling or loss of sutures to your veterinarian.

In cases of malignant tumors, your veterinarian may recommend ongoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment and follow up x-rays.

There is no method of prevention of skin adenocarcinoma. Always examine your pet’s skin for any new growths or changes in current growths and report these to your veterinarian.

Skin Cancer Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

American Staffordshire Terrier
10 Years
Serious condition
1 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Lump on hock joint

Hello. My dog has been diagnosed with a spindle cell tumor through a fine needle aspiration. We are working on finding a vet now to do the surgical removal of the lump. Should I have the surgery done by a board certified surgeon or is it ok to go to my general vet to have the tumor removed? I know that this type of cancerous tumor spreads out like the tentacles of an octopus and so getting clean margins is difficult, especially because of the tumor’s location (rear hock joint, close to the Achilles’ tendon). Knowing this, should the surgeon just simply remove the lump only, knowing that getting clean margins is impossible, and close the wound or should the surgeon try to remove some margin of normal tissue around the tumor to ensure that at least some of the other cancer cells are removed with the tumor but then risk not being able to close the wound and possibly needing a skin graft? I’m struggling with what is the best course of action. Also, is having a dental cleaning/extraction procedure done while my dog is still under anesthesia to make “use of the dog being under” a smart idea or is the risk of infection too great? Thank you for any advice you can give me! I am extremely nervous about putting my dog under and I’m really dreading this surgery.

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Yorkshire Terrier
10 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Possible bleeding
Yellow/white pus

My dog started scratching and getting mad when we touched any where near her belly around her back legs. (She's a yorkie, 10 years) We picked her up to see that she was bruised and looked like she may have been bleeding a little at some point. I checked it again today and a larger area of her belly was covered. It's bruised, and really bad looking. She has tumors on her neck, so we don't know if these two things are some how possibly related. She's older and our vet has said she's aging faster than most dogs, so really her body age is around 13-14. We don't know what to do and we don't want to have to spend a lot of money to bring her into the vet.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1608 Recommendations
Without seeing Diva, I don't have any way to determine what might be going on with her, or how to treat it. It would be best to take her to see your veterinarian, as it sounds painful for her, and you may not need to spend a large amount to find out what is going on with her. They should be able to give you an idea as to what the cause might be, and recommend treatments if possible, so that you know more what you are dealing with.

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Yorkshire Terrier
7 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Drinks tons of water. More than ave

My 7yr yorkie, a rescue dog , had been getting small pimple like bumps on her body and neck. They are small 1cm, white bumps. Some are red. Each looks like a blackheads. Her abdomen seems bloated. By she is still very active and has a healthy appetite.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1608 Recommendations
There are a few things that might be causing Cece's signs, and without seeing her, I"m unfortunately not able to say what might be going on. It would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine her, run any lab testing that she may need, and figure out what is going on with her.

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Shih Tzu
16 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


I have a shihtzu and he is pretty old (16 to be exact). He has a tumor on his left thigh. The tumor itself has become black, most likely there is internal bleeding/hematoma, and flaky. His skin as a whole has changed too. It has become riddled with patches of scabs and flaky skin. Most of it if focused around his tail, medial thighs, and parts of his neck. I am afraid he has skin cancer but My family refuses to bring him to the vet because of the possible diagnosis. He also acts completely the same as he did the day we got him (about 4 years ago) he is still spunky and playful. I wanted any advice on how to keep everything at bay, improve his skin, and improve his quality of life.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3318 Recommendations
Without examining Bubba I cannot confirm whether or not he has a tumour or if the cause is due to bleeding or other condition; whilst I understand the reluctance to visit a Veterinarian through fear of a diagnosis, it would be best to have a diagnosis and a treatment or management plan for Bubba to ensure that he is treated well. You should visit your Veterinarian or visit a charity clinic if you cannot get your family to take him to a regular Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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9 Months
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms


My dog has a small lump on her head next to her ear it is gray and flaky. It doesn’t seem to hurt or itch her and it hasn’t grow . She is still the same vibrant puppy she is and I have not noticed any changes in behavior , eating habits, or physical state. What should I do?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1608 Recommendations
Since the lump is not bothering Frida or getting larger, it would be a good idea to mention it to your veterinarian at your next visit. If it is growing, changing, or bothering her before that, it would be best to have it looked at at that time.

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