We all know that early detection is the best defence against breast cancer in humans, and it’s no different for pets. So today, we’re joining in on the launch of Check the 8 on 8, a new initiative to remind pet owners to check the 8 (or 10) teats on the 8th of the month for signs of mammary cancer.
Did you know that mammary cancer is the third most common cancer in cats, with senior female cats aged 10-14 years most at risk? Whilst mammary cancer is more common in dogs, it has a higher malignancy rate in cats. Like all cancer diagnoses, if it’s caught early and treated quickly there is a much higher rate of survival.
Are there different types of mammary cancer?
Yes, there are two basic types of mammary cancer in cats. Approximately 85% of feline mammary tumours are malignant adenocarcinomas, aggressive tumours that often metastasize to the surrounding lymph nodes and lungs. The remaining 15% include duct papillomas, sarcomas, and adenomas.
Who is most at risk?
Adult female cats are most likely to develop mammary cancer, and the average age of diagnosis is between 10-14 years. Whilst it can also occur in male cats, this is rare. Intact (unspayed) females are at a much greater risk, as are female cats that were spayed after one or more heat cycles, it doesn’t seem to matter whether they had kittens or not. Worth noting, is that Siamese cats seem to have a genetic predisposition to developing mammary cancer, and research indicates they are twice as likely to develop mammary cancer as other breeds.
What are the symptoms?
Like breast tumours in humans, the first sign of a mammary tumour is a small but firm, moveable bump under the skin. If not treated, mammary tumours grow and harden and ultimately ulcerate the skin, leading to infection. Your cat will probably also start to show other signs of ill health e.g. reduced appetite, obvious pain and depression.
What’s the treatment?
Surgical removal of the tumour and surrounding mammary glands is always the first step in treating mammary cancer in cats. If the tumour is aggressive, your veterinarian may recommend a more aggressive treatment approach including chemotherapy drugs. Your cat’s general health and age at diagnosis should always be considered in any treatment plan.
Preventing Mammary Cancer in Cats
Whilst mammary cancer in cats is not a completely preventable disease, there are a few things you can do to help reduce the likelihood of this disease occurring:
- Make sure your female cats are spayed before they come into heat for the first time. Early spaying is the most important thing that you can do.
- Be cautious about the use of progesterone-like drugs (sometimes used to treat behavioural issues such as urine marking), which have been scientifically linked with the increase of mammary cancers. Just as you would talk to your doctor about medications you are prescribed, we encourage you to talk to your vet about the risks or potential long-term side effects of any medications prescribed for your cat. Does the benefit outweigh the risk? Are their safer alternatives?
- Ensure your cat has a regular veterinary check ups.
- Check the 8 on 8 – conduct monthly breast exams at home. Every month on the 8th make time to check your female cat’s teats – it only takes a few minutes and could save your cat’s life. Familiarise yourself with your cat’s body so you know what’s normal and what’s not – start by getting your cat used to being touched and stroked during petting and grooming sessions. This will make it much easier each month as you start moving your hand over their belly to feel for any small lumps or bumps in the mammary area.
Top Image: Trish Hamme via Flickr