Cancer sucks. Much like humans, cats as they age can fall victim to cancer of almost any organ or body part. It is due to this reason that the clinical signs that cats develop are extremely diverse and there are no clear-cut signs that definitively identify cancer is the cause of an illness. As such there is no general screening test for cancer. Each cancer type will require its own series of test procedures.
In general, cancers affect older cats more commonly than younger cats. In many cases, cancers will grow over quite a long period of time, and initially there may just be vague signs of disease such as poor appetite, lack of energy and weight loss. In other cases there may be more obvious signs such as persistent lumps in or under the skin, changes to the eyes, vomiting, diarrhoea, unexplained bleeding or wounds that do not heal.
As the disease progresses, additional complications will usually develop that often relate to the tissues or organs affected. Although cancer may be one of the potential causes of a variety of different signs (especially in older cats), it is important to remember that many other diseases commonly cause the same signs as cancer and that, even where cancer is diagnosed, there may well be treatment options that will enable control or management of the disease, at least for a period of time. However, as it is important to diagnose cancer early, it is vital to seek advice as soon as any abnormalities are noticed.
Diagnostics may include blood or urine testing, imaging such as xrays or ultrasound, or even surgical collection of biopsy samples to send out to the lab. Occasionally, more advanced testing such as an MRI or CT scan is required to reach a diagnosis. These types of test can only be undertaken at specialist centres where the equipment is available.
While a diagnosis of cancer is never good news, it is not necessarily a ‘death sentence’ for a cat. Just as in human medicine, many treatment options are available, although not all cancers respond well to therapy and some may be extremely difficult to manage. The cat’s quality of life and potential suffering must always be the overriding concern – it is worthwhile discussing the options available in depth with the vet before arriving at any decision.
The choice of whether or not to treat, and what to treat with, will depend on many factors. Some forms of therapy are only available at specialist centres, we may suggest you be referredto one of these places. Although good results can be achieved for some cancers, it is not always appropriate or right to treat a cat and you should discuss options carefully with your vet.