Monday, August 19, 2013

Would You Want to Know If Your Pet Had Cancer?

It's common for many companion animals including dogs, cats, rats, ferrets, and others to acquire lumps and bumps as they grow older. Most of the time, these growths are benign and not harmful, thankfully. Of course, there is a chance that these lumps or bumps could be malignant cancers.

Would you want to know if your pet had cancer? I find this question intriguing and have noticed that some people say yes and some people say no. I know there are many pet parents out there who's first thought on this matter is likely to be yes. They absolutely want to know, no questions asked. So, why wouldn't anyone want to know if their pet had cancer?

Photo via Hotash

I'll start by explaining the process of diagnosing those lumps and bumps people find on their pets. Please note that I am generally speaking about skin tumors and not internal tumors. 


Cell Aspiration

Let's say you find a new mass under your pet's fur. It's a bit startling and you will probably call your veterinarian for a check-up right away. At the vet's office, they will feel the mass with their hands and might suggest an aspiration. 

A mass aspiration is when the vet takes a syringe and needle and pokes it into the mass. They will pull back on the plunger to extract some cells. They can place these cells onto a microscope slide to examine. This typically isn't a method for a definite diagnosis. But if the tumor is only a lipoma (fatty growth), then chances are the vet will easily be able to recognize it before they even put the slide under the microscope. Lipomas generally aren't harmful, unless they grow very large and restrict an animal's movement. 

A veterinarian can tell a lot by looking at a growth's cells under a microscope. If they see suspicious cells, they are likely to recommend biopsy or removal of the growth. 

Biopsy & Surgical Removal

During a biopsy, the pet will most likely be anesthetized. Although, I have assisted in biopsies where the pet was just sedated. The vet will take a sample of tissue from the suspicious mass and place it in a jar of formaldehyde to send out to a lab for further analysis. 

Surgical removal of a mass also will most likely require full anesthesia. Again, I have seen removal of growths while the animal was awake but the growths were very small in these cases. The mass in it's entirety will be placed in a jar of formaldehyde and sent out to the lab. 

Dog under anesthesia for surgery.
Photo via AmazonCARES

During a surgical mass removal, a veterinarian will go for wide margins. This means that if the tumor is malignant, they don't want to leave any behind. 

Histopathology

So as I mentioned, the tissues from biopsies and mass removals will likely be sent out to a lab. A histopathologist that specializes in looking at tissue will examine the samples and can come up with a diagnosis. They can also provide a "grade" for the cancer on a special scale. A histopathologist can also determine whether or not the veterinarian had nice wide margins during surgery and got all of the cancer. 

Would You Want to Know If Your Pet Had Cancer?

So now that I've talked about all the details of diagnosing cancer, I return to my original question - would you want to know if your pet had cancer? Why do some people say no?

In some cases, people just want the masses removed and gone. They don't want to know what they are, they just want them off their pet. Ignorance is bliss is the type of thought process going on here I think. Now that the tumor is gone, does it really matter what it was? 

Sometimes, pet parents don't have the means to afford a histopathology report. They aren't really cheap. They may have learned from the mass aspiration that the tumor has a high chance of being something bad and just opt to have it removed without a histopath report. 

Another variable may be that a mass is causing the animal mobility problems due to its location. This is very common in rats. Some pet parents just want the mass gone so their pet can move freely and comfortably again. Perhaps the pet is a senior and they want them to live out the rest of their days as comfortably as possible. 

A rat with a large mass causing mobility issues due to its location.
Photo via Teresa Trimm

There are so many variables to the situation, but I'm sure you get the idea. I personally don't think there is a right or wrong answer to the question as long as the pet is being cared for. 

So now I'd like to know what you think - would you want to know if your pet had cancer?

39 comments:

  1. Great information. We all dread the big C.
    Have a marvellous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

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  2. Our owner says, that if her pet had cancer, she would want to know because then if it came back after it had been removed, she would go to the vet super super quick incase it was cancer. She would know to pay very very close attention to her pet for the rest if its life. Even if she does this already, she would like to kmow what was wrong so she didn't have loads of questions through her head all the time and worring incase out could get worse.
    Our owner went to the vet for 5 days for work experience once and she saw a growth being removed, but it wasnt cancerous and the dog was in the same position as the one in the picture.

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    1. I think many people want to know, because they are simply curious. That is a very common position for pets to lay in while they're having surgery. But that doggy has his leg tied a little differently. Thanks for sharing your mommy's thoughts!

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    2. We are following you on instagram now just to let you know! Great photos. And yes, perhaps the dog didnt have its leg in that position. And there was a poor kitty who hadnt been looked after properly and had to have all of its fur shaved off because it was rock solid. It was in a rescue home.

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    3. I just saw you on IG - yay! I think I am going to have to shave Honey D. too or else her fur is going to end up like a rock like the kitty you saw =/

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    4. I felt so sorry for it :( it came off in chunks which made a bang if you bashed the chunks of fur on the table. And it had fleas and glassy eyes. It looked like a zombie, the poor thing! But much better when it woke up from being sedated

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  3. Yes, I want to know. For me, knowledge is power and I fear the unknown more than the known.

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  4. My concern would be about pain. That is always my concern.

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  5. I lost one cat to cancer at the young age of nine. Diagnosis in his case came too late, with his tumor being deeply internal in his small intestine. From his time of diagnosis until his death it was a very short 5 weeks. And I have to say, that knowing I would soon loose him, did not make it any easier when the time came. It did allow me to give him meds to help him as much as possible, and time to hold him every chance I got.

    Thank you for a great article.

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    1. I also lost my cat around the same age to a cancer. Yours sounds similar to lymphoma, which is super yucky for cats. I'm glad you had at least a little time to say goodbye to him.

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  6. I would want to know it, then I could try to help or to find a cure. I wish we would find something to beat this bi C. it's a scourge for pets and peeps.

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  7. We agree with the idea that not knowing is worse. We want to know so we can make an informed decision about treatment. Dad is a peep RN so knows a bit about all this stuff.
    I came by to welcome Honey Delite to the TCC!
    Purrs
    Timmy

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    1. Thank you Timmy! I think that getting a histopath is certainly the best recommended practice, but as I discovered it's not always practical in veterinary care. At least for some people.

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  8. That was a great post about such a difficult topic. We would always want to know.

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  9. I would want to know then I could make the best choice of treament for my pet,xx Rachel

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  10. Having been through this 3 times with pets, it is hard to find out the news, but yes, I would want to know. And it's important to know as soon as possible so that hopefully you can still do something about it. When we did the Morris Animal Foundation cancer walk with our last pup, they said 1 in 4 dogs will get cancer, and for some reason the statistics are even way worse for Goldens. Cancer sucks!!

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    1. Yea, Goldens do get a lot of cancer :( It's too bad you've been through it so many times with your own pets.

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  11. Thanks for the great information! It is good to know these things in advance, so we can all make the right choices, and know what to do in the future to keep our pets safe.

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  12. With us, it depends on their age. If young, we want to know to find some kind of treatment. Very old and they're not going to highly recommend putting them through anything. Even removing tumors found gets you a lot of warning from the vet about surgery at an old age. We knew with our oldest son's Foxhound. We lived in dread for the next year. I refused to know exactly what it was with Dannyboy--because the answer to my questions "If we know, will it change the outcome if it's bad? Will we be sent somewhere for treatment, etc.?" weren't good.

    When you get answers like, "I can't recommend anything else at this age if it's bad. You'll be putting an old dog with enough old age aches through a lot of other types of pain if you do," you don't feel like there are any options available. I refused to live what time I had left in continual dread if it was bad. I figured we'd know soon enough. We did.

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    1. Very true. Although, I have worked with several doctors who always said that "age is not a disease" and shouldn't prevent a pet from going under anesthesia. I think the thing with that though is old pets are just more likely to have issues that make it unsafe for them to have anesthesia. You'd have to run lots of tests to even know if they should be put under anesthesia.

      My cat had breast cancer, it was obvious without an aspiration. I personally couldn't afford a mastectomy. She wasn't as old as some cats, but I decided to let her live her life out. She lived a long time, another year.

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  13. I lost my Persian to cancer two years ago. She was 15 1/2 years old. Even though she only lasted one month after the diagnosis, I knew what was wrong and did the best I could to make her comfortable. Even though watching her go downhill so quickly was very hard, I at least knew why. I believe it's the unknown that is worse.

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    1. That's sad to hear about :( But I've been there before too. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  14. I wouldn't want to know but I would have to know so I could do all I could. I don't like thinking about it.. xx00xx

    Mollie and Alfie

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  15. shiner...yes we wood wanna noe sew everee treetmint that could help.. could bee offered.... N a tempted...while itz knot sumthin ya wanna heer....knot noe inn could bee just as werse ore even mor sew....R food serviss ladee haz been down this trail witha bully; sad lee it just plane sucks....re gardless...

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    1. Yea it is sad. Sometimes, removal will get rid of it though. It just depends on what type it is I guess.

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  16. Mostly I would want to know. It depends on my pet's age too though. If they are old I might not want to put them through the stress of the vet's visits and tests, etc., but just let them live out their life peacefully. We had a younger dog with lymphoma (6) and we were able to enjoy 4 extra months with her because we did know and were able to treat it. We lost one other dog and 2 cats to cancer also. I wish we had known sooner with our Golden Moses, and maybe he would have had a chance to beat it. But he didn't show symptoms until it was too late. It was all internal, so no lumps or bumps to give it away.

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    1. It does seem pretty situational I suppose. Sorry your guys had to get the yucky C :(

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  17. I'd certainly want to know, because then I could maybe prevent it in the future or at least try to prevent it.

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  18. Before I came to be, my Momma had a sheltie named Captain Nemo. Nemo died of cancer. My pawrents wanted to know to see if there was a way to help and prolong his life. They say they would have done what they could to save him. Thanks for touching on this difficult subject.
    WOOF

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    1. I have had a couple of shelties too :) It's too bad Nemo had to get cancer. Thankfully, there are lots of treatment options nowadays.

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  19. I wouldn't want my peeps to know cos they have no means to pay for treatment and they had Faith and Autumn put to sleep because of cancer. They can't stand the thought of seeing an animal suffer.

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    1. It's a nice thought CK. I was in the same situation as your peeps with my KKMM. She had the breast cancer. She lived for awhile after I found out, but I ultimately put her to sleep when I thought she was suffering.

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  20. I'd absolutely want to know! My last tom cat, Jaggar, went to the vet for a few teeth extractions. He came home was breathing a lil funny and not eating again. Back we go to the vet for xrays and my vet tells me that Jaggar's lungs are 3/4 filled with fluid. She tells me it's a cancer and it's fatal. Wow! At that very moment I had to make a life changing decision for me and for Jaggar. Vet said we could drain the lungs but they would fill back up. Unfortunately at this point and after already gone in for mouth surgeries, I had to let my beloved boy go.

    If Titan had cancer, I'd definitely want to know so I could hopefully fight the cancer and give him the best life I possibly could for his remaining days, months, or years.

    Great post Ann. I'm sure some people wouldn't want to know but I definitely would!

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    1. Aw that's so sad :( I'm glad your vet was honest with you about Jaggar. I've seen similar cases with cats where we just kept draining the lungs. I thought the vet had given false hope, but I guess that's another story...

      Anyways, it seems like most people would want to know as much as possible.

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  21. Going through this right now. Vet found a mass in my dog's abdomen. She recommended an ultrasound. My dog is 13 1/2. I want to know what it is but on the other hand, I don't. Like I said, my dog is 13 1/2 and has had a good life. Not sure what to do.

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear that :( In most cases like that, the end result is not ideal. Your vet has made a good recommendation with the ultrasound, but I understand what you're going through with the age thing. An ultrasound can help your vet understand what's going on in there better, but without it it's hard to know much.

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  22. When Storm had the growth removed from her gum last summer, we sent it for a biopsy. We probably would not have put her through massive treatments, but we wanted to know what we were dealing with. Same for the kitty. We had a lump removed from her last summer and checked (it was a cyst).

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  23. I would want to know in the hope that something could be done

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Thank you for your comments!

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