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Chordomas are a form of bone cancer that affects the bones in the spinal column of an animal (including the tail) and usually stays quite localized. Chondrosarcomas meanwhile, are a type of cancer that stems from cells making up the cartilage tissue between the ferret's bones. This type of cancer tends to spread throughout the body and often avoids detection for some time.
Due to the proximity of most forms of bone cancer to the skin and joints, most common symptoms are readily apparent and easily observable.
Loss of Mobility
Ferrets suffering from these cancers will often display a degree of difficulty moving. Chordomas can easily start to cause this due to their tendency to put direct pressure on the spinal cord itself as the tumor grows. This pressure can impair the function of the affected nerves, and cause problems such as weakness or numbing of parts of the body. These problems can even extend to causing incontinence and trouble with regulating other bodily processes such as breathing, with some ferrets experiencing total paralysis of limbs. Chondrosarcomas, however, can put a hard limit on the amount of movement that a joint is capable of, as the tumors grow out of the spaces normally occupied by cartilage.
Needless to say, chordomas and chondrosarcomas can be the root of a considerable amount of pain localized to the site of the tumor. In chordomas, this is due to the bony protrusion of the tumor pressing into the soft tissues that surround the spinal column, which can be exacerbated by movement. Furthermore, the pressure put on the spinal cord can sometimes produce phantom pains in the extremities. Chondrosarcomas usually cause pain when the affected body part is moved, causing the tumor to rub against other parts of the cartilage and surrounding tissues. This pain can increase as time goes on and the cancer metastasizes throughout the body, meaning that multiple body parts can be affected at once.
Due to the proximity of the tumors in the joints and spine to the 'surface' of the body, they can also give distinct visual clues as to their presence. These include varying degrees of swelling and redness, which can be caused by simple inflammation of the adjoining tissues, internal bleeding, or fluid retention. In some cases (especially in the case of chordoma), a visible lump can often be visible as the tumor grows outwards. Owners can easily detect these problems by parting the fur to inspect a body part that the ferret has been having trouble controlling or experiencing pain in.
At present, there are no specific things that have been identified as the cause of chordomas or chondrosarcomas. That said, many researchers believe that environmental factors have a large impact on the development of these cancers. This would include possible exposure to carcinogenic substances, which is especially possible for house pets that may be exposed to things such as unsafe building materials or cleaning products. A poor diet and improper nutrition can also play a role in the development of some cancers. However, for the majority of animals, cancers tend to be either hereditary or a natural consequence of aging, caused by the breakdown and mutation of DNA in damaged cells.
Upon presenting the ferret to the vet, a series of imaging scans will be conducted to examine areas that are suspected of harboring tumors. This will give a direct view of the inside of the animal's body that would otherwise only be possible via exploratory surgery. These scans will be accompanied by a physical examination in order to test the level of impairment caused by the growths and to check for other tumors. The final stage of diagnosis will include a biopsy (surgically removing a piece of the growth), which will allow the vet to analyze the cells for signs of cancer. Blood tests can also be used in order to gauge how far the cancer has progressed, if it has yet metastasized, and what effects it is having on the body.
There are several courses of treatment that a vet may choose to recommend. The first of these is chemotherapy, which involves administering a mixture of drugs to kill the cancerous cells in the body. This method is well-suited to tackling cancers such as chondrosarcomas, which typically spread through the body quite rapidly. Direct surgical removal of the tumor is the primary method for dealing with chordomas, as these can otherwise quickly prove debilitating to the animal. Furthermore, the chordomas do not typically metastasize, meaning that once excised there is not usually a significant chance of the bone cancer returning. Radiotherapy involves using high-intensity radiation to kill cancerous cells. It is very effective, but due to its highly localized effects, it is not usually viewed as optimal for treating chondrosarcomas.
Following any course of treatment for cancer, there will usually be a substantial recovery period. However, the survival rates for animals suffering from chondrosarcomas is exceptionally low, meaning that the best course of action is usually pain management or euthanasia. Ferrets that have undergone surgery for chordomas will require the normal precautions to be observed in order to keep their surgical wounds clean and to speed up the healing process. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, will necessitate a far longer course of treatment in order to be effective. The effects of the drug can be quite debilitating to the animal, so owners will need to provide a high level of monitoring and aftercare.
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