Manhattan -- While many people are heeding the advice of experts and using preventive measures to guard against overexposure to the sun, it is important to remember that pet owners also need to protect the family cat and dog from the sun's intense rays.
According to Dr. Ruthanne Chun, assistant professor and oncology researcher at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, cats and dogs can develop skin cancer lesions just like humans.
Estimates show that for every 100,000 dogs, 450 are diagnosed with some form of skin or subcutaneous-tissue (structures just below the skin) cancer, and 120 cats are diagnosed for every 100,000. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer among dogs and is the second most common cancer in cats, Chun said.
Chun added that the sun plays a big role in the development of skin cancer among cats and dogs.
"Just like fair-skinned people are more likely to have problems with skin cancer, white dogs and cats are more prone to skin cancers, especially on the areas of their body that are thinly haired, such as the belly on dogs, and the ear tips and around the eyes on cats," Chun said.
Not all tumors are caused by exposure to the sun. Chun said that viruses, hormones, genetics, vaccines and burns are also associated with skin cancer.
"In cats, fibrosarcoma can be caused by vaccination against rabies or the feline leukemia virus," Chun said.
So, how do cat or dog owners know if their pet has skin cancer?
"Skin cancer may be a concern with any lump that persists or grows, is red or irritated looking, bleeds, or if the animal licks or scratches continuously at the site," Chun said. "Even though there may be a lump that is red or bleeding, that does not mean that it is malignant. However, it is always best to have any lump evaluated by a veterinarian."
She added that there are several steps a pet owner can take to prevent skin cancer.
"White cats and cats with white on their face should not be allowed outdoors during sunny days. Likewise, dogs should not be allowed to 'sunbathe,' especially if they have thin-hair coats," Chun said.
Preventing skin cancers associated with vaccination in cats is approached a bit differently because vaccination against rabies is unavoidable, Chun said.
"The vaccine should be given in the right rear leg to ensure that if a tumor does arise it can be easily removed surgically," Chun said. "Studies have clearly shown that if all the vaccines are given over the neck or back or between the shoulder blades, a tumor is more likely to develop and it is more likely to be fatal to the animal because it is harder to remove."
Dogs are not susceptible to skin cancers from vaccinations, Chun added.
Treatment for skin cancer is dictated based on the type of tumor, but surgery is the most common treatment. Radiation therapy, cryotherapy (freezing the tumor), and chemotherapy are all used in the treatment process, Chun said.
She also said that the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at K-State is using new technology in the fight against cancer.
"As far as new equipment, we have a linear accelerator for radiation therapy for dogs and cats. We got it about a year ago," Chun said. "We are also very excited because we are getting a CT scan and an MRI unit for diagnosing problems more accurately. We hope these will be in place this fall."
Chun also underlined the fact that no matter what causes the skin cancer, the well-being of the animal always comes first.
"It is very important for owners to know that anytime we treat an animal for cancer, quality of life is as important to us as curing the cancer," Chun said. "So, even though we may use radiation or chemotherapy, we design our treatments so our patients will have a normal, happy and comfortable quality of life while going through therapy."
Pet owners are directed to KSU-Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital's oncology department for more information.
Prepared by Jason Nicol. Reporters and editors who wish more information, contact Ruthanne Chun at 785-532-4243.