What do you do when you find a new bump on your pet? You know from daily patting of your pet exactly how your pet feels. If you feel something unusual it is time to take your pet to the vet! Your veterinarian will determine if the bump is an enlarged lymph node, an abscess, a benign fatty mass, a hematoma (blood-filled pocket) or a cancerous mass. It is important to present your pet to the veterinarian as soon as you feel the unusual bump.
When you have the appointment with your veterinarian your pet will receive a physical exam from nose to tail and the lump will be examined. Sometimes a sampling of cells, called cytology, will be recommended. Your veterinarian will make a recommendation based on the size, color, location, and degree of mobility, sensitivity, and texture of the mass.
A sampling of the cells, or cytology, may reveal that the lump is a benign fatty mass and must be monitored for growth. If a benign mass gets large it may need to be removed. Sometimes the cytology indicates a more dangerous growth such as a melanoma or mast cell tumor. In either case, your veterinarian may determine that a biopsy is necessary.
A biopsy of the mass is the best way to confirm cytology results and to get absolute answers as to what the bump is. It is a wedge or a core sample from the center of the mass that is usually taken under general anesthesia. It is placed in formalin and sent to the pathologist. A small mass may be completely removed and sent in for biopsy.
At this point, after the biopsy, if the mass is one that is dangerous and can spread either locally by expanding or by metastasizing to the lungs liver and lymph nodes we usually refer our patients to a veterinary oncologist. There are veterinary oncologists at New England Veterinary Oncology Group (NEVOG) and Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and Angell Memorial. A veterinary oncologist has studied several years after the four years of veterinary school to specialize in treating cancer via chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and sometimes vaccination! They are a great resource to discuss the best course of action to treat particular cancers. Some are best treated with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. Others such as some melanomas can be treated with a vaccine. Others need to be decreased in size before being removed surgically. Each type of cancer may be treated differently with one or more tools the oncologist has in her arsenal.
When our dog Otis was diagnosed via MRI with a pituitary mass my first call was to Dr. Sheri Siegel at New England Veterinary Oncology Group in Waltham. She knew that the most successful protocol to shrink the mass and buy Otis 1 to 3 years more of a good life was 15 daily doses of radiation.
As an aside I can tell you I was very glad that I had pet insurance for Otis. I did not have the cancer rider but the insurance paid for about a third of the cost of the MRI and the treatment. If I had a cancer rider more would have been covered. Some companies will consider any illness your pet gets after the waiting period to be a “pre-existing condition” if they get the illness a second time. Even if they never were sick with the disease before you purchased insurance.
The outcome (after many trips around Route 128 to Waltham for 30 minutes of radiation) was pretty much miraculous. Otis gradually changed from a dull sick emaciated dog back to his former enthusiastic self. He lived for 2 more years and passed on from kidney disease
Even if you don’t have pet insurance and do not want to spend beaucoup dollars on your pet it is well worth making an appointment to talk to an oncologist once you have a biopsy diagnosis. You can find out life expectancy, options for treatment with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Sometimes there are studies going on for a particular type of cancer and your pet can be included at a lower cost. Other times the treatment is a vaccine that stimulates your pet’s immune system to attach the tumor.