Cancer awareness campaigns are so popular these days. It seems that cancer is everywhere. Everybody has either experienced it first hand, or knows somebody who has. It is quite clear that advanced technology is incorporated in our lives, affecting everything - from the roots of our communication to our diet. Radiation and chemicals are involved in almost every aspect of our lives, from our cell phones to the genetically modified food we consume.
Unfortunately, our pets are also exposed and affected by today’s modern lifestyle, and the cancer rates are also increasing in animals. It is a well known fact that early detection of cancer is crucial for improving survival chances. People are becoming more and more aware of their role in early detection of cancer signs and seeking medical care immediately. The positive side of the modern technology is the advanced tests available for early detection of cancerous changes and this applies also to pets.
One of the most common tumors in pets is an oral tumor. Tumors of the oral cavity can arise from the bone, teeth or soft tissue structures of the lower (mandible) or upper (maxilla) jaw, or the tongue or pharynx. Most tumors of the oral cavity are malignant.
The first sign of oral cancer is usually the presence of a mass in the oral cavity. The tumor can also appear in a shape of an open wound (an ulcer). However, observation of a mass in the back of the oral cavity can be difficult to visualize, so you should try to detect other signs that may be associated with a tumor. Other symptoms associated with an oral tumor include increased salivation, blood in the saliva, odorous breath, swelling of the face or bulging of an eye, bloody nasal discharge, difficulty eating or pain on opening the mouth, weight loss, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck region. Loose teeth, especially in an animal with generally good dentition, may be indicative of cancer-induced bone loss, especially in cats.
The diagnosis of the nature of the tumor includes a thorough physical exam and x-rays are recommended to assess the involvement of the surrounding tissues. However, the definite diagnosis for characterizing the nature of the tumor is a biopsy. In this test, a piece of the tumor, or preferably the whole tumor, is excised and checked under the microscope by a specialist pathologist. This test reveals the nature of the tissue - the type of cell involved and whether it is a benign or cancerous tumor.
The treatment for oral tumors depends on the type of tumor. For benign tumors a surgical removal is sufficient. In case of cancerous tumors a much more aggressive approach is usually required. Many times it is not enough to just remove the tumor and the bone around it should be also removed. Along with the surgical removal, additional chemotherapy is also an option in some cases.
If you detect any abnormality in your pet’s oral cavity - a strange wound, mass or bulging, eating disorder, abnormal foul smell or any sign that appears unusual to you, consult your veterinarian.
Cancer is a scary word, but not all tumors are cancerous, and not all cancers mean the death penalty. Early intervention can simply change your pet’s chances. You pet can’t talk and and verbalize whether it has a problem or not. It is your job to be diligent and check your pet’s mouth. If your pet is not cooperative, or you are not sure if what you see is considered normal or not, go to see your vet. Your vet will make sure that the mouth is normal looking and if not that the proper diagnosis will be made.
Dr. Oz can be reached at www.KelownaVet.ca