Skin Masses: Warts, Cysts, Lumps and Tumors
Finding a skin mass on your pet is a frightening experience, especially if you've ever lost a beloved animal friend to cancer. However, many of the nastiest looking skin masses turn out to be nothing more than a wart gone wild. Still, the seriousness at the other end of the spectrum, possibly a cancerous tumor, makes caution the best policy if you've discovered a lump or bump on your pet. Calling your veterinarian is first on the list, but knowing a bit about skin masses might help calm your frazzled nerves.
Treating Your Pet
Treatment for your pet's cancerous tumor depends upon the age and overall health of your friend as well as the type of cancer. CUCVM notes that surgical removal of certain canine mast cell tumors, those that have not metastasized or spread, may result in a cure. However, having one mast cell tumor puts your friend at risk for developing more later in life, making careful monitoring a priority. Veterinarians often combine surgical removal with chemotherapy to give your pet the best chance for survival. The type of pet also makes a difference. For instance, exotic pets such as parrots or reptiles often have fewer options for treatment due to lack of research and systems more sensitive to anesthesia and other medications required during surgery or chemotherapy.
Catching it Early
Whether it's an inflamed cyst that needs draining or a tumor that requires surgical removal, discovering a skin mass early in its development and having it checked by your veterinarian often makes treatment easier and may increase the odds of a favorable outcome for cancer. This gives you one more reason to schedule a weekly at-home grooming session for your dog or cat. Masses, lumps or bumps are easy to miss during the course of a normal day, even if your pet has short hair, but they become obvious during one-on-one salon time. If you take your pet to a professional for her hairstyle or she doesn't take kindly to all that brushing, make it a petting session as you search for abnormal growths or bumps. Taking time to tame your birds, hamsters, rabbits and other small pets early in your relationship means you can easily check for unusual masses during routine out-of-cage time.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Diagnosis and Staging
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Oncology: Medical Conditions
Pet MD: Papillomas, Lipomas, Cysts and Basal Cell Tumors in Dogs
Mercola-Healthy Pets: What's That Strange, Scary Lump?
Mercola-Healthy Pets: When Not to Remove Those Scary-Looking Lumps and Bumps
Benign is Best
- Despite the scary-sounding name, papillomas are simply warty growths that often appear as a dog ages. Dr. Susan Becker says, "These warts have certain characteristics, for example, they tend to look like tiny lumps of cauliflower. They're usually flesh-colored, but they can also be pink, black or grey." Becker recommends you consider these growths "beauty marks" and not worry about removal - they are benign -- unless your pup has one on his foot that makes it hard to walk or he becomes obsessed with licking it. (REF 4)
- Felt under the skin, lipomas are soft, fatty lumps that Dr. Becker notes are benign tumors that "are incredibly common in dogs. The traditional veterinary community believes there is no breed, sex or age predisposition for the development of lipomas. And it's true any dog can grow a lipoma - young, old, spayed, neutered, obese or thin." A lipoma in a muscle will feel very firm, Becker cautions, and might seem like a more serious situation, but "chances are it's nothing to worry about." She recommends removal only if the fatty growths enlarge to the point of interfering with your pet's quality of life. For instance, a large lipoma under a front leg might make it difficult for your pet to lie down. (REF 5)
- Sebaceous adenomas are another benign type of tumor and affect oil glands in your pet's skin. If the gland begins overproducing oil, it enlarges and forms a lump. Dr. Becker rarely removes these types of tumors in her practice but notes she would "recommend removing a sebaceous adenoma if it's in a bad location and is growing large enough that it's bothering the dog." As with other benign growths, removal might be recommended if the sebaceous adenoma is on a limb or if the dog just won't stop licking or chewing that spot. As with other examples, removal in those cases would improve a pet's quality of life.
- Sebaceous cysts, which many humans also experience, occur when hair follicles become blocked by surface debris. With the blockage, sebum (a material resembling cottage cheese) builds up in the follicle and causes a lump. Infection can occur with these benign cysts and your veterinarian may choose to surgically remove the mass.
Defining the Difference
Your veterinarian will likely order a biopsy or skin scraping if she's having difficulty identifying what condition is responsible for your pet's skin mass. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (CUCVM) notes that small growths, those less than 1 inch, may be removed entirely via an excisional biopsy and sent for analysis at a lab. Pathologists will examine the cells under a microscope and determine whether the growth comes from a benign source, such as a papilloma, or a more serious condition, such as mast cell tumor.
If your pet's mass is larger than an inch, your veterinarian may choose to do a fine-needle aspirate. For this, she'll insert a needle into the mass itself and use the syringe plunger to collect cells for inspection under the microscope. Another option is an incisional biopsy where just a piece of the mass is removed. CUCVM recommends this procedure when certain types of tumors are suspected, including soft tissue sarcomas.