By Dr. Lamar, Associate Veterinarian

Dictionary Series - Health: cancerA worst fear has come true: You or your veterinarian has found a mass on your furry friend. What will happen next? Well, luckily times are changing rapidly with regards to the answer to that question. Not too long ago, the options were try to cut it out or there was nothing to be done. Nowadays we have many more options both diagnostically and therapeutically.

Whenever a mass is found, the first step is to gather as much information as we can based on its texture and appearance. A mass on the skin can be visually examined and felt by your veterinarian to garner some initial thoughts.  It is impossible to diagnose any mass just based on looks/touch, but it can give us an educated guess as to its origin. An internal mass may need an ultrasound and/or x-rays to obtain this information.

After this initial step, the next diagnostic step is the least invasive – a fine needle aspirate (FNA). This technique involves inserting a small needle briefly into the mass, removing a few cells, and checking those cells under a microscope. If the mass is internal, this step almost always requires ultrasound guidance. An FNA can frequently give us a lot of information about what exactly the mass is, although it does not provide a final diagnosis in every case. Sometimes, we must move on to a biopsy (taking a piece of tissue) to provide our final diagnosis.

Once your veterinarian knows size, location, and type of mass we are able to give you much more information about treatment options and prognosis. The two main treatment modalities are surgical and medical, and in some cases, both. When a mass is removed surgically all efforts are taken to remove the mass in full with “clean” margins of tissue on all sides. It is highly recommended to send any removed mass to a pathologist for a histopathology review which will give you more information about the mass itself and information about the margins or removal.

Medical options vary greatly depending on the type and stage of mass. Some of these options can be performed with the supervision of your veterinarian (at home medications, etc.), while some more intensive therapies are best administered by a board-certified oncologist. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are constantly improving for animals and vary from human cancer treatments. Specific questions regarding these treatments are best answered in an oncologist consultation session.

Even if a mass is found on your dear companion, take heart that Pet Dominion will do all we can to give you the most accurate diagnosis and full range of treatment options. Please call (301)258-0333 for a veterinarian appointment if you have any questions or concerns about your pet.  Do you have a pet who is a cancer survivor?  Share your pet’s inspiring story in our comments.