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Ask the Doctor July 2016 Issue

Dear Doctor - Canine Oral Cancer

Oral squamous cell carcinomas

Q Recently, Catnip published an article called “Does Your Cat Have Bad Breath?” and the author Dr. Plotnick mentions oral cancers that are common in cats. He states that early detection and aggressive treatment are essential for therapy to be successful.

One of my cats was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the lower left jaw in July 2015. I took her to UC Davis where her case was managed by the Dentistry and Oral Surgery and Oncology departments. At the time of diagnosis, you could feel a small bump on her lower left jaw, but she was eating well and no soft tissue was involved.

I was advised that the only treatment option was radiation, which I pursued. However, this did not slow the tumor’s growth — and within two months, the tumor had grown to the point where my cat was having difficulty eating. Rather than watch her suffer, I chose to humanely euthanize her at home.

I would like to know if there are any other treatment options that are available for cats with SCC in the bone.
Janet Nicolini

A Dear Janet: I am very sorry to hear about your cat. Unfortunately, oral squamous cell carcinomas are a common cause of death in older cats. Although these tumors rarely metastasize (spread to distant sites), they are highly invasive locally, and are often too advanced to treat by the time they are discovered. In general, the best option for relatively small tumors is surgical removal, which almost invariably requires removal of some of the bone of either the jaw or maxilla (“upper jaw”).

Although cats can do very well with these surgeries in the long run, they often take many weeks to fully recover, and must be fed via a tube placed in the neck until they regain their desire to eat. The veterinarians at UC Davis must have felt the tumor was too advanced to remove, and for that reason, recommended radiation therapy. However, oral squamous cell carcinomas are often somewhat resistant to radiation, and may progress despite it, as occurred in your cat.

Currently, surgery and radiation therapy are the main treatment options for the disease, but advanced cases are always difficult to treat and carry a guarded prognosis.
John Berg, DVM, DACVS
Professor of Small Animal Surgery
Cummings School of
Veterinary Medicine
at Tufts University

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