Oral Cancers in Cats
Does My Cat Have an Oral Tumor?
Oral tumors in cats are relatively common. Unfortunately, when it comes to tumors in the oral cavity, most are malignant. The oral cavity includes more than just your feline’s teeth and gums. It also includes lips, the hard and soft palate (roof of the mouth), upper and lower jaw, cheeks, tongue, and the floor of the mouth. Oral tumors—both non-cancerous and cancerous—can form in any part of your cat’s mouth.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common oral tumor seen in cats.1 It accounts for about 90% of oral tumors in felines. Other types of tumors include fibrosarcomas, adenocarcinomas, and ameloblastomas.
Signs and Symptoms of Oral Cancer in Cats
There are no definitive causes of oral cancers; therefore, early detection is vital. Brushing your cat’s teeth every day not only helps keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy—it will also familiarize you with your feline’s mouth. By brushing their teeth regularly, you are more likely to notice the symptoms of oral cancer, such as if something looks or smells different.
Annual dental exams by a veterinarian are also important. During professional dental cleaning by a veterinarian, your pet will be anesthetized. This allows your veterinarian to take full mouth dental radiographs (x-rays) and thoroughly examine and clean your cat’s teeth above and below the gum line. Any tumors or growths forming in the mouth will be seen by the veterinarian.
Any and all growths should be checked by a veterinarian for testing. Cancerous tumors can metastasize, or spread, into other parts of the body if left untreated. Oral cancers are usually found in geriatric felines. Occurrences of the illness in males and females are about equal and there is no breed predilection.
The clinical signs of oral cancer include:
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Difficulty eating
- Lethargy (may also indicate something other than oral tumors)
- Not wanting to eat on one side
- Ropey saliva with or without blood
- Weight loss (may also indicate something other than oral tumors)
Diagnosis and Staging Oral Cancer in Cats
Along with bloodwork, your veterinarian may do a fine-needle aspiration or a biopsy of the tumor to confirm whether it is cancerous. In some cases, a fine-needle aspiration of the lymph nodes may be performed, too. If the sample taken is confirmed as cancer, the next step is to determine the stage of cancer. Your feline may need radiographs or a CT scan of the head or chest area. This is done in order to see if cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
During this time, your primary care veterinarian may refer your cat to a board-certified veterinary oncologist for the tests and to consult on treatment options. Veterinary oncologists are trained to diagnose and treat cancers in pets.
Treatment Options for Cats with Mouth Tumors
A cancer diagnosis can feel devastating, but the good news is that your cat has options. There are typically two methods for treating oral cancers and tumors in pets.
In many cases, surgery can be performed to remove the tumor if possible. Surgery requires that margins around the tumor be taken out along with the tumor. The extent of surgery depends on the type of cancer and location of the tumor, and often requires removing part or all of the jaw, teeth, and/or surrounding bone.
Advanced Radiation Therapy
If surgery is not an option or the entire tumor cannot be removed, the pet may be a good candidate for advanced radiation therapy, or stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS). Due to its ability to deliver high doses of radiation with sub-millimeter precision, SRS is an ideal option when a complete resection of the tumor through surgery is not possible. For example, Pet Hero Snickers was a 12-year-old Shih Tsu that was diagnosed with advanced oral squamous cell carcinoma. Neither surgery nor conventional radiation therapy was an option for him due to the location of his tumor. Snickers received SRS treatment, which cured his cancer, giving him three more years with his family.
Combination Surgery and Radiation Treatment
In some cases, a combination of treatment options is used. The animal may need to undergo surgery for removal of the oral tumor followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy. In cases of oral melanoma, immunotherapy or vaccines may also be used to treat the cancer.
Oral tumors come in many types and location, so the prognosis is dependent on the individual pet’s specific situation. There are new advancements like SRS and immunotherapy developing rapidly in veterinary medicine, so we recommend that you explore all treatment options with a board-certified veterinary oncologist.
There are many ways you can help your cat during this trying time. If your feline is having difficulty eating, try feeding your cat soft foods. Remember to give your pet clean water and administer any prescribed pain medication according to your veterinarian’s direction.
The Prognosis for Cats With Oral Cancer
The prognosis for felines with oral cancer ultimately depends on the tumor type, whether it has spread to other parts of the body and the treatment option chosen by the owner.
Questions? We are here to help.
No one knows your cat better than you do. If you see any possible signs of oral cancer in your cat, do not hesitate to contact your primary care veterinarian for a comprehensive evaluation. As with any illness, early awareness and detection is the key to successful treatment.
If your feline has been diagnosed with cancer, contact our Pet Advocates at (833) PET-HERO. Our team members are ready to help answer your questions. You can also view the locations of the comprehensive cancer care centers across the U.S. that are supported by PetCure Oncology.