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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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.
Lung cancer can be caused by environmental carcinogen exposure including radon and air pollutants. There are no known breed predispositions to lung cancer.
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
- 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.
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.
- Radiation therapy
- Pain medication
- Palliative care