What is Tonsil Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma)?
Tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma begins in the squamous epithelium. The epithelium is a part of the four different types of animal tissue. There are three others, which are muscle tissue, connective tissue, and nervous tissue. In the epithelial cells, there are three shapes of other cells called cuboidal, columnar, and squamous. The glands in your dog’s body are made of these epithelial cells and their functions are to sense, transport, absorb, and secrete materials like blood and other cells. When one of these cancer cells show up in the squamous epithelium, it multiplies rapidly and spreads to other parts of your dog’s body, such as the bones, lungs, brain, and other vital organs. That is why it is so important to get treatment as early as possible, which can be difficult if the symptoms do not become evident until sufficient damage has already been done. The best way to avoid this from happening is with regular annual checkups at the veterinarian or clinic. The cause of tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma is (as is the case with most types of cancer) not known, but veterinary medical experts believe it has something to do with environmental pollution because it is much more common in cities than in rural areas. In addition, large breeds are more susceptible to tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma, and it is much more common in male dogs and those over the age of seven.
Although tonsil cancer (tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma) is an uncommon condition, it is the second most common oral tumor in dogs. As with many other cancers, tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma is classified as primary or secondary. Primary means that the cancer originated in the tonsils, and secondary means that the cancer has spread to the tonsils from another part of the body. Just like any other kind of cancer, the earlier it is found and treated, the better the chances for survival. However, the chances are high that the cancer will already have spread to the lungs through the lymph nodes. Whether the tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma is primary or secondary, this is a fast growing cancer and has a high (over 70%) metastatic rate, so the prognosis is usually not good.
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Symptoms of Tonsil Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs
Signs of tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma are usually not noticeable until the tumor is large enough to cause symptoms, or if it has spread to other parts of the body. In many cases, the tumor is found during a routine examination by a veterinarian, which is another reason it is good for your dog to see the veterinarian at least once per year. Some of the most common symptoms of tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma are:
- More tired than usual
- Lump or swelling on face, neck, or inside the mouth
- Foul breath
- Drooling more than usual
- Blood tinged saliva
- Significant loss of weight
- Trouble eating and drinking
- Having a hard time swallowing
- Gasping for breath
- Primary tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma originates in the tonsils
- Secondary tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma spreads from somewhere else in the body
Causes of Tonsil Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs
The true cause of tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma is unknown, but these are some of the risk factors suggested by experts:
- Much more common in the city than in the country
- Large breed dogs are more frequently affected
- Almost all dogs with tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma are over seven years of age
Diagnosis of Tonsil Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs
The veterinarian will do a full body examination, paying special attention to your dog’s mouth and throat. He will measure your dog’s weight, blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, and pulse oximetry to see how much oxygen is being circulated in the blood. At this time, it is a good idea to fill the veterinarian in on what has been going on with your dog, if there have been any episodes of strange behavior, any recent sickness or trauma, or changes in appetite. Once the physical examination is done, the veterinarian will run some diagnostic tests, such as a cytology test done by using a thin needle to extract some cells from the tumor or lymph nodes. Once the cells are extracted, they are examined microscopically to check for cancer cells. The veterinarian will also take some blood for CBC, blood gas, chemical analysis, clotting test, and glucose levels. Imaging with x-rays, MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound may be done as well, especially to determine if the cancer has spread. The CT scan is best for viewing the lungs because it is more sensitive and detailed.
Treatment of Tonsil Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs
The treatment for your dog’s tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma depends on how advanced it is, how far the cancer has spread, as well as the age and health of your dog. Surgery to remove the cancer and the surrounding tissue, bone, and lymph nodes is the best option if your dog is healthy and the cancer has not spread. However, it is important to remember that the average survival rate with this cancer is approximately four months, even with aggressive treatment. Radiation therapy is also recommended after surgery and for tumors that are unable to be removed surgically. This usually includes daily treatments of low doses of radiation. The side effects can be rough for some dogs, and may not be feasible if that occurs.
Recovery of Tonsil Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) in Dogs
The survival rate with both treatments together is only six to eight months, with the tumors recurring in almost 100% of the cases. Sometimes the best choice is palliative care, to make your dog comfortable for the time he has left.
Tonsil Cancer (Squamous Cell Carcinoma) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
We have a 12 year old Chihuahua that has had the surgery, radiation and chemo. He has survived about a year now. We had the option of more oral chemo, but we opted out, and to spend our time with him in a better way. He is salivating and what looks like pus or infection coming with it. Went to vet today, they put him on antibiotics. Is this a sure sign he is on the downside? We want to make him comfortable. Any help?
The pus leaking isn’t a sure sign he is in decline, but you need to be aware that prognosis is guarded. I haven’t examined Rocco, but the first step would be a course of antibiotics to see if there is any improvement; the infection may just be something minor or the start of something serious. Your Veterinarian would be able to tell you more. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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Hello. My sister's dog underwent surgery 2 weeks ago to remove what was thought to be a thyroid tumor after a mass in the neck was found (firm mass located lateral to the larynx) After biopsy it was determined to be a "non-descript carcinoma" with a high metastatic rate. There were lymph cells present in the sample as well as a mixed bag of others. No other abnormal findings on physical exam and rads of the chest and spine were negative, bloodwork all normal and no weight loss. Unfortunately they have no answers for her as far as prognosis, as they do not know origin or if she has disease elsewhere. I have suggested she seek a second opinion of an oncologist. The dog has just not been right/acting herself prior to and since the surgery.
Before visiting an Oncologist, it may be worth getting a second opinion of the biopsy by requesting the images from the biopsy plus blood results and x-rays by sending them to PetRays (link below) which offer and Oncology service since you only require another set of eye to go over the test results and images. I am unable to give you any idea about the prognosis due to lack of information, but a regional lymph node aspirate may also be useful. Some of the symptoms are not surprising like eating slowly due to the location of the surgery. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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Last week, we took our Husky, Mishka to the vet and they found a tumor on her tonsil. They removed the tonsil last week Friday and said that the glands around it are not inflamed. We are still waiting on the results to whether or not she has squamous cell carcinoma. We have researched the disease and the outcome is not very good.
I was just wandering if the vet said that the glands around the tonsil are not swollen, does that mean there is a chance of it not being this cancer or whether she has it; did we catch it early?
If caught early, is it possible for her to have a full recovery with treatment?
If the tumour was only unilateral (one side) it is quite likely a squamous cell carcinoma; if both sides were affected to may be lymphosarcoma. Regardless of the type of tumour present, recurrence is unfortunately almost a certainty and Mishka will require regular monitoring for any recurrence in the area. Some tumours spread and others are locally aggressive but recurrence is the common theme; it would be best to wait for the histopathology results. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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