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Cancer In Cats -- What You Should Know About Feline Cancer

Updated on May 14, 2009
Darlene Norris profile image

Darlene Norris loves cats and dogs. She has worked as a vet assistant, and draws on this experience when she writes her hubs.

Feline cancer is one of the leading causes of death in older cats.
Feline cancer is one of the leading causes of death in older cats.

Did you know that the leading cause of death in older cats is feline cancer? As our kitties are living longer, they're becoming more susceptible to feline tumors. Here's what every person owned by a cat should know about this dreaded disease.

What Exactly Is Cancer?

Cancer is unrestrained cell growth. Every cell in your body wears out sooner or later. As these old cells die off, new ones are produced to replace them. Normally new cell growth is restrained by the body. But sometimes a switch gets turned on somehow, which leads cells to reproduce uncontrollably. This leads to the growth of tumors.

There are many reasons that cells can grow out of control. Exposure to chemicals or radiation is one factor. These are called carcinogens, and their effects are cumulative over your pet's lifetime. This explains why cancer is seen more often in older pets.

Certain viruses have also been associated with cancerous tumors in cats.

You may hear different words used to describe cancer. "Neoplasia" means new growth, and "neoplasm" means "tumor." Tumors in cats may be benign, which means they don't spread to other organs. A benign tumor, however, can still grow into the surrounding areas and cause problems.  

Malignant tumors often spread throughout the body by means of the lymphatic system or the bloodstream. When a malignant tumor spreads, this process is called "metastasis."

What Are The Most Common Kinds of Feline Cancer?

Cats can get many different kinds of cancer, but the ones that most commonly affect kitties are lymphosarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and mammary (breast) cancer.  

Lymphosarcoma in cats may be found in kitties of any age. It used to be more common in younger cats who were infected with feline leukemia. But now that more cats are being vaccinated, fewer younger cats are being affected. Chemotherapy for cats is often used to treat feline lymphosarcoma.

Tumors in cats may also be caused by feline squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), especially skin tumors. White cats are more susceptible to this type of skin cancer, since they don't have pigment to protect their ears from the sun's rays. These tumors usually show up around the age of 12. With treatment, the outlook is good for most cats with skin cancer.

SCC also causes oral cancer in cats. Swelling of the face or jaw, bleeding from the mouth, and weight loss are symptoms to watch for. Sadly, this type of cancer is often not discovered until it's already in advanced stages, when treatment options are few.

Feline breast cancer is often seen in older females. Siamese cats are especially prone to mammary tumors. These tumors are usually malignant, and they usually spread quickly other glands in the body, and also to the lungs. When this happens, the outlook is not good.  

Know The Warning Signs Of Feline Cancer

New treatments for cancer in cats are being developed all the time, but any treatment is most successful when the cancer is found in its earliest stages. Anyone who lives with a kitty should know the warning signs of cancer in felines:

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing food
  • Bleeding from the mouth or any other part of the body
  • Unusual lumps or bumps
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Bad breath

Sick cats tend to hide themselves away. If your formerly friendly, outgoing pet suddenly turns into a recluse or becomes grouchy, he may be ill.  

Do your kitty a favor, and be watchful for the signs of cancer in cats.


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      Dina 4 years ago

      My cat also has cancer. He has spindle cell carcinoma and it's malignnt and was spreading all over his body.He had to have his leg amputated to stop the tumors spreading. But even with hie leg amputated, the tumors are spreading and are infecting his lugns and his breathing. Doctor says it's time to put him to sleep afgter the X-RAYS.

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      cathy thomas 5 years ago

      my 9 year old sweetheart cassie has a cancerous tumor on her chest. it started the size of a pea.but has grown the size of a small ball in only four weeks. she cant breath good and is very lethargic just a couple weeks ago she was just fine.there is nothing we can do and i feel helpless.she was actually my husbands cat.he passed away last year in an accident. she is all i have left of this is extremely hard.god bless my kitty she will be with her daddy.

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      pennie hansen pickles] 5 years ago

      I hear ya my cat princess has cancer been very hard but doing the best I can do while she is still alive I love her very she is 8 yrs old she has skin cancer she sneezes a lot feel so bad for her. will be hard when she goes she will be missed [pennie hansen

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      Alison 6 years ago

      Take care Vicki. I fear this is also the time for my 14 year old cat. It is so hard to play god and make this decision even if it is in her best interests.

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      Rhonda 6 years ago

      I'm so sorry, but she is already suffering and you would be showing how much you love her by having her put to sleep. My heart goes out to you.

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      vicki pallesen 6 years ago

      My 15 year old cat is going through the same thing. First diagnosed a month ago with dental problems. 1 month and $1,000 later I am told it is oral cancer with only a couple of weeks left. She cannot eat, she is bleeding from the nose, tounge is hanging out, bad breath and a disfigured face. The end is near and she will probably be but down today.....but it is so hard. I can't put my 15 year old through chemo or radiation. How do you know when it is time?

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      Jan 6 years ago

      My 18 year old had a swollen face and the vet thought it was caused by an abscessed tooth. Yesterday she went in for dental surgery and to have a tumor removed from her eyelid. They discovered that her lower jaw has been destroyed by cancer. All I can do now is love her as long as she is happy and then will have to let her go. It will break my heart.

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      Sian Astley 6 years ago

      I wish I'd have known to check my girl for breast cancer. I found a long growth under one of her nipples in Sept '10 but it had grown very quickly and it was too late to operate as it had already spread to her lungs. We lost her on 2 Jan 11 and were devastated. Didn't even know it was a huge problem in older female cats, wish the vet had mentioned it on her annual health check.

      This is my tribute to her:

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      stephanie 7 years ago

      my cat has intestinal cancer and it is very hard. The vet says there is little hope even with treatment. I am keeping her at home until...

      I am very worried. It sucks knowing there is nothing you can do.

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      Cory Zacharia 7 years ago

      My sweet kittie had a tumor removed from her right nostril this past Christmas Eve (God bless my veterinarian!). The histology came back as a spindle cell sarcoma. We will see a veterinary oncologist this Thursday, but if you have any knowledge about this condition, please let me know. Thank you for these very informative hubs.

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      wordscribe41 8 years ago

      Great hub, very informative. Sadly it's something we all need to be watching out for, especially in the senior cat. I just lost a kitty to intestinal cancer, the symptom being rapid weight loss. Thanks for the hub.