Most pet owners will find a lump or bump on their dog sometime during its life. While skin masses may be harmless, sometimes they can be dangerous, requiring prompt and aggressive medical attention. The goals of treating a skin tumor depend upon whether the mass is malignant or benign, and whether it is painful or bothersome to the affected dog. The location of the tumor is also quite important when developing a treatment plan.
Treatment Options for Skin Tumors
The options for treating and managing skin tumors depend primarily upon the cause of the tumor and its location. For example, benign fatty masses, called lipomas, rarely require treatment, other than perhaps for cosmetic reasons if they bother the owner or are in a location that causes discomfort to the dog. Many owners decide to have lipomas removed because they don’t like the look or feel of them on their dogs. Other types of benign skin tumors often are also best managed by just watching them for changes in shape or size.
Most veterinarians recommend that malignant skin masses be removed at the earliest opportunity. Aggressive surgical excision, including removing wide margins of normal tissue around the entire tumor site, is usually the treatment of choice. The removed tissue will be submitted to a pathology laboratory, where skilled scientists can assess whether all of the tumor cells associated with the mass have been removed. If it appears that malignant cells extend close to the surgical margins, a second surgery may be appropriate. Radiographs (X-rays) may be recommended to determine whether cancerous cells from the tumor have spread to nearby lymph nodes or to other areas, such as the bone marrow or lungs. Blood tests typically will be conducted as part of the treatment plan, to assess and monitor the dog’s overall health and its response to treatment. In many cases, radiation, cryotherapy and/or chemotherapy will be used in addition to or in lieu of surgical resection – especially when wide surgical margins around a malignant mass cannot be achieved.
Skin tumors often ulcerate and become open to the outside world. This provides a ripe environment for bacterial infection, which can lead to secondary abscesses. Abscesses are best treated by being lanced and drained, followed by a course of antibiotics.
Skin tumors can come back after surgery, regardless of the heroic treatment efforts of the veterinary team. Because of this, regular rechecks are important for dogs with malignant skin masses, even after they are removed and treated.
The prognosis for dogs with lumps and bumps on or under their skin depends primarily upon the underlying cause of those masses. Most benign masses can be effectively treated by complete surgical removal or benign neglect. Most malignant skin tumors cannot be completely “cured,” but may be well managed with surgical and medical therapy. General practitioners often refer patients with complicated skin masses to a veterinary oncologist (cancer specialist) or a veterinary dermatologist (skin specialist) for consultation about advanced diagnostic and treatment protocols.