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Healthy Pet Care Tips

Basal Cell Tumors in Cats

The most commonly seen tumors in cats are those affecting the skin or just under the skin. Our PetVet Care Centers member vets discuss everything you need to know about basal cell tumors in cats, as well as how they are diagnosed and treated.

What are basal cell tumors in cats?

Your cat’s skin, is made up of several layers. The bottom layer contains basal cells which perform the essential role of producing new skin cells. A basal cell tumor is the result of abnormal growth or proliferation of these cells, their associated hair follicles, or sweat glands. 

Most of the tumors our veterinarians diagnose in cats are basal cell tumors. If a cat is diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, this is a type of basal cell tumor that is cancerous (malignant). Fortunately, only about 10% of diagnosed basal cell tumors are cancerous and they are most commonly seen in senior cats. 

What are the causes of basal cell tumors in cats?

There is no definite cause for the development of basal cell tumors in any cat or pet, there are various recognized contributing factors. Some of the most common risk factors include environmental and some genetic or hereditary. It is also more likely for particular breeds of pets to develop cancers compared to others.

How are basal cell tumors in cats diagnosed?

Your vet may first evaluate the signs and symptoms that are being presented by completing a physical examination. They will look for signs such as:

  • A firm, hairless raised mass
  • Varying size of the mass
  • Cystic or ulcerate masses
  • Pigmentation of the mass

Once your vet determines that there is in fact a mass that is a likely tumor they will typically perform fine-needle aspiration (FNA). The process of FNA allows your vet to retrieve a cell sample from the mass to examine under a microscope. Occasionally the results from this procedure will be inconclusive or require the vet to perform a more thorough procedure for diagnostics. In these cases, your vet will perform a biopsy. The examination of a sample for biopsy is commonly referred to as histopathology and can help the vet determine the outcome of the tumor.

What are the treatment options for basal cell tumors in cats?

If your cat has been diagnosed with basal cell tumors or basal cell carcinomas then the most likely treatment recommendation will be surgery. Surgery will help reduce the risk of secondary complications, especially if the tumor is cystic or ulcerate which could cause infections. While rare, there is a small chance that the tumor could recur at the surgical site but the chance of this is low.

Cryosurgery—which uses liquid nitrogen spray to freeze the tumor—may be used if your cat's tumor is very small.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Does your cat have a suspicious lump on or under their skin? Contact a PetVet Care Centers location near you to book an examination for your feline family member.

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