Dog skin cancer is one of the five most common cancers in dogs (the others are bone cancer, lymphoma, mammary cancer and oral tumors). These cancers typically appear as lumps in the skin, which usually become larger over weeks and months, and may eventually ulcerate and bleed.
There are five main types of
1. Melanoma. This cancer is relatively benign in dogs and is often completely curable. Having said that, some melanomas spread deep into the tissues under the skin, and these can be more difficult to manage.
2. Spindle Cell Sarcoma. These tumors can become quite large, but don’t usually spread throughout the body. Because these tumors spread tentacles of tumor cells into surrounding tissues, they can be very difficult to remove completely, and they often recur after surgery.
3. Squamous Cell Carcinoma. These tumors are often associated with long term sun damage. They are a relatively common dog skin cancer in white dogs that enjoy sunbathing.
4. Lymphoma. This can occur on its own, or in association with cancer of the lymph nodes, gastrointestinal tract or respiratory tract.
5. Mast cell tumor or mastocytoma. This tumor is the most common skin cancer in dogs, with one in five skin tumors positively identified as a mastocytoma. They can be very aggressive and spread elsewhere in the body.
Diagnosis of the type of dog skin cancer you are dealing with is fairly straightforward. Your veterinarian may get a good idea from the appearance of the lump. Melanomas are black. Squamous cell carcinomas are often red and crusty, and usually found on white or hairless skin.
A sample of cells can be taken from the lump with a needle, and smeared onto a slide. This slide is stained with dyes to help identify the cell types, and then examined by a pathologist under a microscope. If that isn’t diagnostic, then a biopsy can be taken of the lump, and it too can be looked at under magnification.
The outcome of your dog skin cancer depends on the type of tumor. Melanomas can be completely cured, as can squamous cell carcinomas if they are caught early enough, while they are still small. If a squamous cell carcinoma isn’t treated, it can spread widely over a dog’s body, which makes it more difficult to treat.
If a spindle cell sarcoma is treated aggressively, your dog is likely to be still sharing your life for up to 5 years after diagnosis.
The prognosis for a skin tumor that turns out to be a mastocytoma varies widely. These tumors can be graded from I to IV. Grade I tumors can usually be cured. Grade IV tumors have a much poorer outcome, and treatment will likely need to be repeated in the future.
If there is anything positive about dog skin cancer is that the tumors are easy to find, which allows you to have them treated early in the progression of the disease. This gives you the best possible outcome. Make it a habit to give your dog a full body massage on a regular basis, and watch closely for any unusual lumps and bumps on their skin.
Has your dog been diagnosed with cancer? Do you suspect that he might have this dreaded disease?
“My Dog Has Cancer…Now What?” is a special book that will help you understand the dog skin cancer treatment options available for your dog.