Gingival Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Cats
Carcinoma is a type of tissue cancer that is particularly virulent, metastasizing quickly through the body, often with fatal results. Carcinomas can occur in any part of the body, including the mouth. Of the several types of cancerous oral growths that a cat can be affected by, a squamous cell carcinoma is the most common one. These tumors grow very rapidly and typically invade nearby bone and tissue. Unlike other carcinomas these tumors do not usually spread to other organs, but, like other carcinomas, they are mainly seen in older cats, around ten years old. However, squamous cell tumors have been seen in cats as young as three years old.
Symptoms and Types
- Difficulty chewing and eating (dysphagia)
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Blood coming from the mouth
- Weight loss
- Loose teeth
- Growth in the mouth
- Swollen or malformed facial appearance
- Swelling under the jaw or along the neck (from enlarged lymph nodes)
No causes have been found.
You will need to give a thorough history of your cat’s health and onset of symptoms. The physical examination will consist of your veterinarian performing an extensive examination of your cat’s oral cavity, looking especially for loose teeth and a mass of tissue growth. A simple palpation (examination by touch) will indicate whether the lymph nodes under your cat’s jaw and along its neck are enlarged, a confirmation of which would indicate that the body is fighting a diseased condition (as the lymph nodes produce white blood cells). Laboratory tests will include a complete blood count, biochemical profile and urinalysis to make sure your cat’s internal organs are functioning normally. If your cat has enlarged lymph nodes, your veterinarian will take a sample of fluid by aspiration needle to better understand the composition of the fluid. This test may tell your veterinarian if the growth in the mouth has spread to the lymph nodes. Your veterinarian will also order x-rays of your cat’s chest and head to determine if the oral tumor has spread to bone and tissue near it, or to the lungs. Your veterinarian will also need to perform a biopsy of the growth in order to make a more precise diagnosis of the type of tumor it is.
Treatment will depend on how large the growth in your cat’s mouth is. If it is very small and has not spread to the bone near it or to other places, it might be removed by a technique that employs freezing (cryosurgery). If the tumor is larger, a more invasive surgery may be necessary to remove the growth and possibly part of the bone or jaw near it. Most cats recover well even when part of the jaw has been removed. Your veterinarian may recommend radiation therapy after surgery to ensure that the cancer has been entirely eliminated. Radiation therapy after surgery has been found to help some cats live longer.
If your cat’s tumor is too large to remove through surgery, radiation therapy by itself may be recommended. This may help control further growth of the tumor and help your cat to feel more comfortable.
Living and Management
Your cat will need to stay in hospital for several days after the surgery. Your veterinarian will monitor your cat’s pain level and its ability to eat and drink on its own before releasing it to home care. After your cat goes home with you, its mouth may still be sore, especially if it has had part of its jaw removed. It will also have difficulty eating for some time after. Your veterinarian will help you to make a diet plan that includes food that is easy to chew until your cat has learned to compensate for the loss of jaw bone. You may even need to sit with your cat, feeding it small amounts of food by hand until it is able to eat on its own again. Your veterinarian will also give you medication to manage the pain. Make sure to closely follow all directions that you are given with the medication.
Even when surgery is not the treatment of choice, radiation therapy may also make your cat’s mouth sore, so you will need to feed soft food during this stage of therapy as well. It is common for cats that have had radiation therapy to develop sores in the mouth and not want to eat because of irritation to the sores. If your cat does not eat or drink for several days, it will become very ill. In these cases, if your cat will not, or cannot accept supplemental liquid nourishment from you, it may need to be in the hospital so it can be given nutrition intravenously (IV).
Typical of carcinomas of any type, squamous cell carcinomas of the mouth will often recur. With surgery and radiation, some cats can be comfortable for up to three years before a recurrence.
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