Cancer - Introduction

Cancer is a generic term used to describe any disease that is caused by a malignant tumour. Tumour literally means "swelling", and is sometimes still used with that meaning. However, nowadays the term is primarily used to describe abnormal tissue growth . Tumours can be either malignant (uncontrollable growth and spread) or benign (limited growth with no spread). The term 'cancer' refers only to the malignant tumours. It gets its name from the crab-like shape of growths extending outward from the main tumour. Once cancerous (abnormally dividing) cells spread to different tissues, for example through the bloodstream, we talk about metastasis (from Greek: change of the state). Once metastasis occurs the prognosis are usually poor.


What causes cancer?

The uncontrollable or defective growth of cells that characterizes cancer is caused by damage to the cellular DNA. This results in the mutation of the genes responsible for the production of the protein which control cell division. Many mutations may be required to transform a normal cell into a malignant cell. Some of these mutations can be caused by viruses. For example, feline leukaemia virus is the major cause of cancer in cats. Although the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), does not itself cause cancers, it often allows cancers to grow by destroying the immune system.

Anther cause can be genetic susceptibility, which means that the cat has inherited rom a parent some genes which are already defective. We also know that some mutations can be caused by chemical and physical agents called carcinogens. During its life a cat may be exposed to many of these agents, and these may eventually cause tumours to grow. However, as is often the case in humans, the exact cause which triggers a particular cancer in a cat is generally unknown.

Clinical signs of cancer

Cancers can affect cats at any age although they are more likely to be found in older cats. Cancers can manifest themselves in many ways, some of them very subtle, especially in the early stages. In many cases, cancers will grow over quite a long period, and initially there may only be vague signs of a malaise; such as poor appetite, lack of energy and weight loss. The signs will be vary depending on the site of the tumour. So for example cancers of the stomach or intestines may cause diarrhea, sudden loss of appetite and vomiting. Lung cancer is likely to cause rapid or laboured breathing. Bone cancer may cause lameness and stiffness. Sores and wounds that don't heal on the ears and nose could be skin cancer. Any lumps and bumps should always be treated with concern. However, it is also important to remember that all the symptoms above are not specific to cancers and can be caused by a number of diseases. However, if you see any of those symptoms, a visit to the vet is a good thing. Remember that the chances of successful treatment are much better if cancer is detected in the early stages. Some cancers are very aggressive, which means that if you wait to take your cat to the vet, it may be too late when you finally get there. Because there are no specific symptoms, if you detect anything unusual, check it with the vet. He will be able to run diagnostic tests and either confirm cancer or clear your cat. If the cat is getting old it is a good idea to regularly check for any potential lumps, sores etc.

More guidelines for detecting signs of potential cancer in your cat:

  1. Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
  2. Sores and wounds that do not heal
  3. Weight loss or loss of appetite
  4. Cat seems in pain
  5. Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
  6. Bad-smelling breath
  7. Difficulty eating or swallowing
  8. Difficulty in movement or loss of stamina
  9. Persistent lameness or stiffness
  10. Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating

Note: This information is for guidance only. It is not intended to replace consultation with a licensed practitioner.

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