Can Dogs Get Skin Cancer?
They absolutely can. The skin cancer that is most aggressive on a dog is the same type that is aggressive on humans: malignant melanomas. Don’t confuse these with benign tumors called melanocytomas, which are benign tumors. Both of these, however, come from the cells in the skin that produce dark pigment. If you are able to tan easily, it is said that you have more melanin in your skin, than say a friend who doesn’t. Melanin also creates dark hair.
What many people don’t realize is that veterinarians don’t think that skin cancer on dogs is caused by exposure to sunlight. It is believed that genetics play a huge role in this and some breeds are more prone to malignant melanoma, such as the Chow.
What does skin cancer look like on a dog?
Just like other cells in the body, they can become cancerous and the tumors are not just found on the skin. They can happen inside the mouth, in the eye, even on toes. The tumors themselves are typically dark and solid to the touch; they are visible to the eye.
Skin Cancer in Dogs Symptoms
Obviously the first sign is a dark, fleshy mass on the dog’s body. As the cancer spreads, it spreads internally and can reach areas like the lungs. Once it is in the lungs, a dog may experience coughing, weight loss, decreased appetite, and blood in the mucous that is coughed up.As I mentioned above, there are some benign tumors caused by melanin. These are usually the tumors found on parts of the skin with hair. The real trouble comes if the tumor is in the mouth, the edge of the lip, or the toe. These are areas where haired skin meets non-haired skin and the cancer can quickly spread internally to the lymph nodes, lung, liver, and adrenal glands.
Treatment for Skin Cancer on Dogs
Surgery is the primary way to remove a malignant melanoma or a melanocytoma. Prognosis with surgery is best if the tumor is only on skin with hair. If the malignant melanoma is in the mouth, surgery will be attempted. Chemotherapy does not typically work well with melanomas in the mouth. About 1 out of 5 dogs will respond to the chemo, but these types of tumors spread so quickly, it’s too difficult to treat all of the areas where the cancer has metastasized. Radiation has shown to reduce the size of the tumor in some dogs, but it will most likely grow or reappear later.
If the melanoma is on the toe, many veterinarians will recommend amputating the affected toe. Tumors on the toe also spread (metastasize) very quickly so that by the time surgery takes place, the cancer has probably already spread. The cancer cells that have migrated may be too small to see on a scan at first but will eventually grow other tumors in other parts of the body.
There is currently an experimental vaccine for dogs with malignant melanoma to boost a dog’s immune system and prolong their life after treatment. This vaccine can only be requested from your vet.
If your dog is experiencing any medical problems, please take him or her to your veterinarian immediately.