Lung Cancer in Cats

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Key takeaways

Lung cancer is the formation of one or more malignant tumors in the lungs. Primary lung cancer in cats is rare but when it occurs, it is likely to metastasize.

  • Symptoms include rapid breathing, wheezing, coughing up blood, weight loss, and chronic coughing
  • Diagnosis of lung cancer requires a biopsy of the tumor, diagnostic imaging of the chest and abdomen, and blood work
  • Primary treatment is surgical removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue, if that is not possible, chemotherapy can be used to reduce growth and spread of the tumor into other tissues
  • Prognosis for lung cancer is very poor and optimal treatment may be palliative care and pain-management focused
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A closer look: Lung Cancer in Cats


Cancer is defined as abnormal, uncontrolled cell growth resulting in a mass called a tumor. Tumors are associated with many sub-types of cancer whose origin is traced back to different cell types. Lung cancer is a general term referring to any type of cancerous tumor found in the lungs or respiratory tract.

Lung cancer has a poor prognosis in cats and is highly metastatic, meaning it spreads aggressively to other parts of the body. Treatment may be able to prolong life by several months but the response is highly individualized by the location, time, and spread of the tumors. Lung cancer is asymptomatic in the early stages and does not typically develop symptoms indicating an emergency until the disease is extremely advanced.

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Risk factors


Lung cancer is more common in cats 12+ years of age and affects both sexes equally. Severity is affected by the size, speed of growth, or location of the tumor. A history of lung disease can increase the severity and onset of symptoms.

Possible causes


Lung cancer can be caused by environmental carcinogen exposure including radon and air pollutants. There are no known breed predispositions to lung cancer.

Main symptoms


Many cats are asymptomatic at the time of diagnosis. If coughing is present, cats with lung cancer may cough up blood.

Testing and diagnosis


Lung cancer may be identified as an incidental finding when chest X-rays are ordered to investigate other symptoms.

Cats showing symptoms consistent with lung cancer typically undergo a full diagnostic workup including:

  • Physical exam
  • Bloodwork
  • Diagnostic imaging

Biopsy is necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Steps to Recovery


Treatment depends on the location and size of the tumor. The primary treatment is surgical removal of the portion of the lung with the growth. If surgery is not possible, chemotherapy can assist in reducing the growth and spread of the cancer. Stereotactic body radiation therapy is available in some locations and may provide some benefit.

Palliative care, pain management, and symptom management may be the primary treatment to reduce end-of-life suffering.

Prognosis with lung cancer is very poor. Without treatment, the life expectancy is under 3 months and with treatment it is only extended by a few more months. Lung cancer is prone to metastasis and likely to spread to other areas of the body.

Prevention


Lung cancer cannot be completely prevented but the risk can be reduced by lowering the exposure to carcinogens in the environment (smog, asbestos). Monitoring overall pet health and lung disease can allow for earlier identification of potential lung cancers.

Lung cancer is not contagious.

Is Lung Cancer in Cats common?


Lung cancer which originates in the lungs, rather than metastasized from another location, is very rare in cats.

Typical Treatment


  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Pain medication
  • Palliative care

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