Canine Tumors of the Skin: An Overview

Canine tumors of the skin are places on a dog's skin surface that form unnatural lumps of skin tissue. Tumors are created when one or a few of the dog's skin cells undergo a series of mutations that lead to the cells' uncontrolled growth. These mutated cells are called cancer cells, and they continue to divide and use the body's resources to make more cancer cells. Some canine skin tumors are not serious, while others can be life threatening for the affected dog.

Different Types of Canine Skin Tumors

There are two types of tumors: benign and malignant. In a benign tumor, the cancer cells stick together to form a solid mass. Because the cancer is concentrated into a small area in a benign tumor, this type is the easiest to treat. A tumor becomes malignant if the cancer cells undergo another mutation that causes the tumor to grow extensions, not unlike the roots of a plant. These "roots" allow the cancer cells to move around the body, starting new tumors whenever they land.

Once a case of cancer becomes malignant, it is extremely difficult to treat, because the disease is much more widespread throughout the dog's body. Even if a dog's tumor starts out on the skin, it can spread deep into the body once it reaches malignancy. The majority of canine skin tumors never reach malignancy.

Treatments for Canine Skin Tumors

There are three main methods of treating canine cancer:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

If the dog has a benign tumor, it can be treated surgically. Surgical treatment for a canine skin tumor simply consists of slicing the cancerous tissue off of the dog's body.

Radiation therapy is used for both types of cancer, benign and malignant. Radiation therapy involves bombarding the tumor with high-energy x-rays, so as to kill as many of the cancer cells as possible. It is used before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor, and after surgery to mop up any remaining cancerous tissue that was left behind.

Chemotherapy is the most intense type of cancer treatment; it involves pumping the dog's body full of toxic chemicals. Chemotherapy works because these poisons are more toxic to cancer cells than the rest of the dog's body, so the cancer dies faster than the rest of the dog.

Which Treatment Should I Use on My Dog?

Chemotherapy is usually only used for malignant cancer cases that have spread deep into the body, so if your dog only suffers from a skin tumor, one or a combination of the two other methods of canine cancer treatment will probably constitute a better choice. For most canine skin tumors, veterinarians will recommend either surgery, radiation therapy, or one right after the other. The exact treatment recommended depends on where the dog's skin tumor is located and how big it is.

As with any type of cancer, skin tumors in dogs can pose a very serious threat to the animal's health and survival. If you notice a tumor on your dog's skin that appears to be growing, make an appointment to have it examined at the vet.

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