So, you found a lump on your pet and have spent hours searching the Internet for answers. You’ve asked your pet-loving friends what they think. You’ve tried to find pictures that look like the lump. Ultimately, you want to know if this lump is something worrisome… like cancer.
Unfortunately, the Internet and your friends will not have accurate answers for you. Why? Because they are not microscopes.
When to See the Vet
Years ago, I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Sue Ettinger, veterinary oncologist, talk passionately about our pets’ lumps, bumps, and masses. Her take-away message was that ANY LUMP 1 CENTIMETER OR LARGER AND PRESENT FOR ONE MONTH OR MORE SHOULD BE TESTED.
Testing these small lumps gives you the best chance at catching cancer early and having the most options for treatment and good outcomes. Unfortunately, the longer we wait to get a diagnosis, the longer the mass has to spread and grow.
Getting a Diagnosis
Veterinarians need to test lumps to determine what they are and what to do about them. Even talented, experienced veterinarians cannot determine what a lump is by seeing it or feeling it. Sure, their years of experience might give them a strong suspicion one way or another, but an honest vet will tell you there’s know way to know what a lump is for sure without testing it.
Veterinarians most often test lumps by performing a fine needle aspirate (FNA). This fast procedure that can be done in the vet clinic, usually without sedation or anesthesia required.
The vet will insert a small need into the lump and aspirate (suction out) cells to be viewed under the microscope. The needle is often the same size of the one used to administer a vaccine. Depending on the veterinarian’s skill level, the cells might be viewed right in the clinic. Benign fatty lumps (lipomas) can often be simple enough to diagnose in the clinic with this test. Other lumps usually need a specially trained pathologist’s eye to make an accurate diagnosis.
Check out a quick video of Dr. Sue Ettinger performing the procedure here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxiOlHZvz0E
This test is not foolproof, but it is the BEST first step. When it is performed, the hope is that all of the cells in the lump are very similar. That way, if the vet takes a few cells from one small area of the lump, there is a reasonable expectation that all of the cells in the lump would be the same microscopically.
What if I just wait?
Please, do not wait longer than a month to have your pet’s lump checked. If the lump turns out to be cancerous, time cannot be wasted! Even if the lump itself does not seem to be growing or changing, cancerous masses can be metastasizing (spreading) on a microscopic level.
Also, I advise being even more cautious and going to the vet sooner if…
- the lump is on your cat (cats can be less likely than dogs to get benign masses)
- the lump is on your dog who happens to have a “smooshy” face (brachycephalic breeds); these dogs can be prone to cancerous mast cell tumors
- the lump is on your purebred dog (mixed breed dogs may be less prone to cancerous masses)
- the lump is on or near your female pet’s nipples (may be mammary cancer)
Interested in more expert advice? Please check out Dr. Sue and her resources!