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Causes and Prevention of Cancer in Cats

Source: PetWave, Updated on December 22, 2015

Causes of Cancer in Cats

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in domestic cats. Technically, cancer is defined as one or more malignant tumors. A malignant tumor is a lump or growth that involves rapid cell division and that spreads through the animal’s bloodstream and/or lymphatic system, ultimately infiltrating remote areas of its body. Many people worry that any and every tumor is “cancer,” including bumps or swellings. This is not the case. Often, these are called “benign” masses, which grow slowly and don’t invade and destroy outlying tissues. Certainly, genetic and environmental factors can influence whether or not a cat gets cancer, as can the natural course of aging. Exposure to secondhand smoke, radiation, chemicals and herbicides can increase a cat’s risk of getting certain types of cancer. Cats infected with the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or the feline immunodeficiency virus are predisposed to getting cancer. Some of the more common forms of cancer in cats are lymphoma, leukemia, mast cell tumors, squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and soft tissue fibrosarcoma. Each of these can present in multiple ways, with varying frequencies and degrees of severity. Common sites of cancer in cats are the skin, blood cells, mammary glands, lymph nodes, digestive tract and mouth. Despite intensive research in both the companion animal and human arenas, feline cancer is still largely an unpredictable phenomenon that is heavily influenced by hereditary, environmental and other unknown factors.

Preventing Cancer in Cats

Unfortunately, until scientists discover and truly understand what causes cats to get cancer, owners and veterinarians won’t be able to do a lot to prevent it from occurring. Regular veterinary visits can help identify any lumps or bumps on a cat’s skin, in its lymph nodes or in its mouth, so that they can be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible. Surgery, radiation, cryotherapy, hyperthermy, immunotherapy and chemotherapy are available at certain specialized veterinary clinics and veterinary teaching hospitals. Spaying or neutering can reduce the risk of certain types of feline cancer. Feeding a high-quality, palatable and nutritious diet will help keep cats in good overall health, reduce their risk of contracting infectious diseases and developing other disabling disorders. With prompt diagnosis, aggressive treatment and ongoing supportive care, including pain management and long-term dietary support, many cats with cancer can live comfortable and relatively normal lives.

Special Notes

Early diagnosis of cancer always improves the prognosis. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are available at specialized veterinary hospitals to treat feline cancer. With prompt diagnosis, aggressive treatment and ongoing management, including pain management and dietary support, many cats with cancer go on to live long, comfortable, and relatively normal lives.

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