Many clients come in to see us when they find a lump on their pet and would like us to look at it and tell them what it is. Unfortunately, it is rarely ever that simple!
What type of lump is it?
It is usually impossible to tell what exactly a lump is, just by looking at it. Most lumps owners notice are on, in, or under the skin. Not all lumps are tumors, and not all tumors are cancerous (malignant).
Some lumps could be abscesses, granulomas (caused for example by excessive licking), allergic lumps (papules or hives), skin infections (e.g. pimples), or cysts. Tumors (abnormal growth of tissue) can be benign, or malignant (cancerous).
Early diagnosis is important for the best treatment options and outcome. As we often can’t determine exactly what a lump is, just by looking at it and feeling it, vets will often advise having the lump sampled.
Fine needle aspirate
This can be done in consultation, via a fine needle aspirate (FNA). In this procedure, we first shave and prepare the skin over the lump, or the lump itself, antiseptically clean it as if we were to do surgery on it, and then insert a needle into the lesion and remove cells from the lesion via suction.
The content will be spread onto some slides and stained, and the cells will then be assessed by a pathologist. This procedure is usually fairly simple to perform and not too painful. In some cases, it may not be 100% diagnostic, as only cells are assessed instead of tissue, but in those cases where it doesn’t provide a diagnosis, it often still helps in the decision making.
Biopsy and or removal
The other option is to do a tissue biopsy or if possible, removal of the entire lump. Unlike in human patients, we cannot do this under a local anaesthetic as our pets don’t understand what is happening and won’t lie still during the procedure. One wrong move by the pet can cause a lot of trauma and distress, excessive bleeding, contamination of the wound or we could miss some of the lesion to be removed. So a full anaesthetic is needed, and in most cases the procedure will be day surgery, with the patient going home the same day. Once removed, the lump (or sometimes a tissue biopsy) is sent off to a laboratory to be assessed. The diagnosis will help us determine if further treatments are needed or if we are in the clear.
Wait and see?
A wait and see approach can be very problematic. If we are lucky, the lump is really nothing to be concerned about and won’t cause any problems, but what if the lump is cancerous? As it grows larger, it will be more difficult to remove and may have had a chance to spread into the surrounding tissues or into the distance! Early sampling is the key to the best outcome for your pet.
One of our patients came in for a consult years ago; she presented with ten lumps under the skin. All of them felt soft and were suspected to be lipomas, fatty tumors of which the vast majority are benign. All of them were sampled, nine of them proved to be lipomas, but one was a mast cell tumor, a tumor that can behave quite unpredictably and can be very malignant! Luckily the dedication of the owner to have all lumps sampled resulted in the best possible outcome for the pet, with the mast cell tumor removed with wide margins while it was still small!
If you have any concerns or questions regarding any changes in your pet’s health, please don’t hesitate to contact our clinic and book an appointment, or speak to our friendly staff.