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What is Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma)?

A squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer of the epidermal cells in the skin of dogs. This is a malignant tumor, but metastasis to other parts of the body is rare, especially with cutaneous tumors. Squamous tumors account for only about 5% of all cutaneous tumors in dogs. Subungual squamous tumors in the nail bed are more common and have a higher rate of metastasis to the lymph nodes and lungs. Most tumors appear as a raised lump with a rough surface resembling a wart. Tumors are usually inflamed and may bleed and become infected, especially if a dog scratches or digs at the tumor. Concurrent bacterial or fungal infection is possible, and the local lymph nodes often become inflamed, depleting the immune system, and making it easier for the cancer to metastasize. Subungual tumors on the nail bed often result in loss of the nail, and dogs may show signs of limping and lameness. These tumors may spread into bone and the nerve cells and are more difficult to remove permanently with surgery than cutaneous tumors. Squamous tumors can also occur in the epithelial layer of the gastrointestinal tract, especially in the oral cavity. Depending on the location of the tumor, oral squamous carcinoma can interfere with swallowing or cause mild cough. Tumors on the tonsils and tongue have a higher rate of metastasis, while those in the nasal cavity are more likely to remain contained. Surgery is frequently an effective treatment for squamous cell carcinomas, unless metastasis to the lungs or lymph nodes is already present at the time of diagnosis.

Cancerous tumors that form on the epidermal layer of the skin are called squamous cell carcinoma. This type of tumor can be found in several locations, either directly on the skin, in the nail bed area of the toes, or in the oral cavity. Squamous cell carcinoma has a low rate of internal metastasis, so it is more treatable than many other forms of cancer.

Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) Average Cost

From 40 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$6,500

Symptoms of Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs

Symptoms may vary depending on the location of the tumor.

  • Raised wart like lump
  • Inflamed sores
  • Bleeding sores
  • Limping or signs of pain when walking
  • Lameness
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Mild cough
  • Swollen or inflamed areas in the mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Oral bleeding

Types

Squamous cell carcinomas are defined by their location on the body.

Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (actinic keratosis)

  • Tumors that occur in the skin especially hyper-pigmented areas with a high rate of exposure to sunlight
  • More common in Keeshonds, Standard Schnauzers, Basset Hounds and Collies.

Subungual squamous cell carcinoma

  • Tumor in the epithelial layer of the nail bed, this is the most common form of squamous cell carcinoma, accounting for about 50% of digital tumors in dogs
  • A slightly higher number of females are affected
  • Breeds with increased incidence include Giant, Standard and Miniature Schnauzers, Gordon Setters, Standard Poodles, Scottish Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Dachshunds

 Oral Squamous cell carcinoma

 

  • Squamous tumor that occurs in the mouth, more common in older neutered females
  • Breeds with increased incidence include English Springer Spaniels and Shetland Sheepdogs
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Causes of Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs

It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of cancer since many genetic and environmental factors probably play a part. These are some of the conditions which may put your dog at an increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma.

  • Age – the mean age for diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma is between 6 and 11 years old; risk generally increases with age
  • Exposure to sunlight – this is less obvious than it is with humans, but outdoor dogs are more at risk
  • Short haired dogs
  • Dog with dark colored coats
  • Large breed dogs
  • Papilloma virus
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Diagnosis of Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs

Squamous cell carcinoma resembles many other skin tumors, so the veterinarian will need to examine a sample of the tumor with cytology to make an accurate diagnosis. A biopsy or needle aspirant will be taken with a local anesthetic. In some cases, the veterinarian may decide to surgically remove the tumor first, and diagnose the cancer microscopically after removal.

Bloodwork will likely be taken to evaluate your dog’s immune system and check for signs of systemic illness from metastasis. Dogs with affected lymph nodes may show a low lymphocyte count on a blood test. X-rays may also be necessary to check for metastatic tumors in the lungs, especially with subungual squamous carcinoma.

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Treatment of Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs

Surgical excision is the most effective treatment for squamous cell carcinoma. A 2cm margin around the tumor will be needed to ensure the removal of all cancerous tissue. With subungual tumors, this usually involves removing the entire digit. Since squamous cell carcinomas are skin tumors, most surgeries are minimally invasive. You will need to clean and check the area regularly after surgery, and try to keep your dog from scratching at the incision. A return check-up may be needed several weeks later.

There are a few alternative treatments if your dog is not healthy enough for surgery, or if the cancer is still in the very early stages. Intralesional implant chemotherapy is the insertion of a sustained release gel implant containing a chemotherapy medication such as fluorouracil or cisplatin. This treatment has had a reasonable success rate with squamous cell carcinoma in dogs. Etretinate, a medication that is sometimes used for very severe psoriasis, has also been effective at treating squamous cell lesions in the early stages. This is less effective on lesions that are very aggressive, and treatment may have to be carried out for up to ninety days.

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Recovery of Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs

Squamous cell carcinoma treatment has a much higher success rate than other forms of cancer, as long as the tumor has not metastasized to other areas of the body. Studies have found that 95% of dogs that have surgery on a squamous cell carcinoma survive for at least one year after surgery. With repeat surgery on subungual tumors, 60% of dogs still survived for at least one year; however when internal metastasis was present, the survival rate at one year was only 10 %. Like most forms of cancer, a complete cure is rare, but this type of cancer is usually treatable as long as it is caught in the early stages.

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Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) Average Cost

From 40 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$6,500

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Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Frances

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Bloodhound

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11 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Just discovered my 11 yr old Bloodhound Frances as SCC, which manifested itself in awful raw red sore on neck kind of under her pronounced dewlap area. Had surgery for that June 2018 and in mid Aug I felt ball like tumors in her throat. So apparently SCC does metastasize. My Bloodhound Gyp died of SCC in 2007, which began as tiny red bump on chin and ended up moving to lymph glands and large goiter like tumor on one side of dewlap. So two unrelated indoor Bloodhounds have died of SCC. I feel for all of you other dog owners witnessing your beloved pets dying. Nothing more to do than ensure Frances remains comfortable. With a strong robust disposition, she has never been sick until now.

Aug. 25, 2018

Frances' Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Bloodhounds are over represented when we look at statistics for squamous cell carcinoma and appear more prone to developing than in other breeds. Surgical excision and management is important when suspecting squamous cell carcinoma; however your Veterinarian should be consulted regularly to monitor. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 26, 2018

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Coco

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Cocker Spaniel

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6 Years

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Coco is 6.5 years old black cocker spaniel. he was diagnosed with scc on his front right toe. Vet suggested to ampute the arm to avoid spreading of the disease. It’s been a month after amputation. Coco is now limping and in a lot of pain because of a swelling in his left arm. He is not keeping the arm down any crying continuously . Vet did an X-ray which suggested that scc is coming back I’m the left limb now. Another doc suggested it to be osteocoma. Is it possible. We don’t want another amputation? We are waiting for biopsy report. He is In a lot of pain. Can we apply cold pack on the inflamed elbow will it help??

Aug. 19, 2018

Coco's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

It is important to wait for the results of the histopathology before making any further decisions on treatment; once the type of cancer is confirmed your Veterinarian will be able to advise you on the next steps depending on the findings. Amputation is concerned a treatment of choice in these cases to limit spread and to ensure that good adequate margins have been taken. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 19, 2018

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Bella

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black mouth cur

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5 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Rapid Breathing
Bumps

About 6 months ago Belle was diagnosed with SCC and her entire leg was amputated due to the tumor starting to wrap around her joint on her ankle. About two weeks after her surgery her scans were clear and that was that. No follow up appointment or anything. I’m wondering when and how often I should get repeat scans? I'm also curious of the chances of the cancer coming back in a different location. She has two bumps that have me worried since I haven’t noticed them before. She’s recovered well from her surgery and only deals with phantom leg pain.

Aug. 6, 2018

Bella's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma is locally invasive and is slow to spread, aggressive amputation is a good treatment of choice in these cases; if you’ve noticed any new lumps or bumps you should visit your Veterinarian again to be on the safe side. There is no set follow up or interval to check for metastasis but your Veterinarian may indicate or have concerns to check. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 6, 2018

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Maggie

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Labrador Retriever

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10 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Juicy Red Protruding Digits

My dog has had two subungual squamous cell carcinomas removed. On under a front armpit and one near lower jaw. Both were removed. Biopsy on both came back positive. She is now showing one for sure and may two additional under armpit. Because of the different locations i.e. armpit and jaw, does that not show that it is being spread through the blood or L nodes? She is a 10 yer old black Lab. She is sleeping more than usual. She has a very high threshold to pain so it is hard to tell how much pain, if any, she is experiencing.

July 31, 2018

Maggie's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin in dogs rarely spread to lymph nodes or other areas and are more locally invasive, they may appear in numerous locations and are more common in dogs which spend time outdoors; normally wide surgical excision is curative in these cases. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 1, 2018

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Tyson

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American Pit Bull Terrier

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10 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Honestly, where would I even begin with all of the unnoticed symptoms that I brushed off as “normal” due to his age or whatever. I guess I’ll start with the day I decided to take him to the vet. So, he was 100% his normal self until one night he cried out from eating his kibble — figured it was a dental issue considering his age so we took him to the vet. After getting put under they found a mass the size of a baby’s fist on the left upper palate near the throat. It was biopsied and then reduced but since it’s in the head, there’s not much room for doggy MOHs surgery. So, we’ve decided not to treat but start palliative care. But here’s my question: I was cleaning his ears today and I noticed a reddened area close to the opening on the same side as the tumor — could the tumor have invaded his ear canal already? If so, should we prepare ourselves... although I’m really hoping that I may have just irritated his ears while cleaning them.

June 16, 2018

Tyson's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I'm not sure what type of cancer Tyson was diagnosed with, but I am sorry that is happening to him. It would seem to me if the tumor had invaded his ear cavity, you would notice other signs besides just a reddening, as that would be incredibly painful for him. I suspect it is a little red from cleaning, but it would be a good idea to keep an eye on it and have your veterinarian look at him if the spot is worsening or not resolving.

June 16, 2018

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Chevy LeRoy

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American Pit Bull Terrier

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10 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Bleeding
Licking Of Feet,
Light Coughing

My Chevy was diagnosed with SCC just recently, he has it on his mouth. Seems to bleed a lot. Always bleeding from one thing or another, he sneezes or rubs against anything he's gonna bleed. Vet tells me that nothing can be done for him. His lungs sound good, he's a happy boy that will be lucky if he's here for 6 months. Doesn't believe he's miserable but he licks his feet constantly and i feel im afraid hes uncomfortable sometimes. Its killing me inside to see him bleeding all the time. I get it to stop but I'm doing this a lot. Vet says he will eventually not eat or drink but I won't let it get that far. I was wondering how long is too long or I dunno. I just lost my kitty to kidney failure a month ago so I'm at a loss here. He seems so happy sometimes and when he bleeds he's just lost. I dunno what's right or wrong. Can anyone help me on this? Vet says the THC will help with pain

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Willy

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Airedale Terrier

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8 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

None

My eight year old Airedale had a lump on his shoulder. My vet did a fine needle aspirate which came back negative. Several months later it grew more and seemly became painful. The vet said it needed to be removed which it was within two weeks. The pathology said it was a squamous cell carcinoma. While the vet got good margins, greater than 20 mm and a deep tumor free margin measuring 10 mm, the mitotic count was greater than 30 per 10 400 x fields. We went out-of-town for an oncology consultation and they suggested a lymph node aspirate, chest x-ray and abdominal x-ray. They tried to test the lymph node but it was too small and also behind some scar tissue. He had a chest x-ray just before the surgery so we declined at that moment. They recommended chemo and/or Piroxicam. The studies didn't convince me that chemo was the right thing to do so we're using Piroxicam and I will have get a chest x-ray and lymph node check in about two weeks. Surgery was on Jan. 8, 2020. I'm not sure if chemo is necessary or the right thing to do - or is it? He seems happy and back to his old self and I watch him like a hawk. He also has numerous fatty lypomas but they have been looked at and don't seem to be causing a problem so better off left alone I am told. We had a hard time with the surgical recovery due to a large blood clot so I don't want to put him through that again. I would appreciate any professional expertise on whether or not I should start chemo and/or if the Prioxacam is a reasonable course of treatment with regular lymph note checks and chest x-rays. Thank you.

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Dexter

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German Shorthaired Pointer

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7 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Licking, Swelling, Limping

Dexter has had 2SCC areas on his toebeds. The first one appeared in May 2018, amputation in September 2018. The second in May 2019, surgery in July 2019. Both started with swelling, gnawing and limping. Had I been aware of this kind of cancer, I would have been more aggressive in treating the first toe. The second toe, as soon as he limped, we went to the vet. First exam showed nothing, not even swelling. But a month later the limp had not gone away and there was slight swelling. The xrays showed a subtle area on the nail bed of the middle toe, same paw. It was barely perceptible. We went ahead with the amputation and he is recovering nicely. A week after surgery, he was walking normally on 2 toes. Dexter is a black and white GSP, and we live in Texas, although he is mostly inside. He is large and weighs about 89 lbs.

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Dolce

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Shih Tzu

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11 Years

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Minimal Bleeding
Swollen Lower Jaw

My 11 year old Shitzu was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma 8 months ago. Due to his age, I decided not to do surgery, as they would have had take out half his lower jaw. I also decided against chemo, so currently he is taking Piroxicam. Of course the tumor continues to grow, but he seems pretty happy still and has a great appetite. However, sometimes he looks like has some pain and recently, he's starting to bleed a little from his mouth. What I'm wondering is, is there any other pain meds I can request for him and what else should I expect to see in his progression. I'm just not sure at what point I should put him down. He just seems so alive and happy most days right now, I can't imagine putting him down now. But I worry about how bad it can get and I don't want him to be miserable.

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Beck

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Miniture schnauzer

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13 Years

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Critical severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Drooling
Losing Weight
Sores That Do Not Heal
Sores In His Mouth
Drooling Thick Mususe

I have a 13 year old mini schnauzer who is dying from skin cancer. We are keeping some what comfortable with pain, antibiotics and prednisone medications, he has a healthy appetite. But his sores are getting bigger raw smelly and losing weight. We are so sad because we know that is time to say goodbye.

Skin Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) Average Cost

From 40 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$6,500