Does My Dog Have Mammary Cancer - what are these lumps?!

If you feel a new lump on your dog it’s natural to fear the worse.

But how can you really know if a mass is something to worry about or not?

In today’s post I discuss how we can try and get a diagnosis, and this applies to any type of mass, not just the potential mammary tumors featured in today’s question.

DAA mammary cancer.jpg

This Dr Alex Answers question is all about a couple of different lumps that are on a dog's belly that maybe look like mammary glands and are where the mammary gland should be, and the owner is wondering if these lumps are in fact mammary cancers.

Now, unfortunately it's impossible to know what any lump is from a picture alone. These ones don't look like typical mammary tumors but they definitely potentially could be.

We rely when we're examining our pets on a lot of different things. So when it comes to masses, we rely on texture, on feel, on palpating whether they're extending into adjacent tissues. But no matter how accurate your fingers are, no matter how sensitive your fingers are, we can't tell what a mass is just by feel and just by look.

We might have a higher suspicion that it's more likely to be a certain type of lump, but we can never say with any degree of absolute certainty.

So really with any new lumps that develop, the best thing to do is firstly to get them checked out by your vet and then, depending on what they think, consider having something called a fine needle aspirate (or FNA) cytology carried out.

This is a technique that can be done in conscious and un-sedated animals. It's almost pain free in most cases and it's a great technique from that point of view. It involves taking a little needle, kind of stabbing it into the lump and moving it around a little bit, and then squirting the contents that is then within the needle out onto a slide and examining that under the microscope.

It could be that your vet examines it straight away, or the slides may need to be sent to a pathologist to interpret. Even then results are generally back within a couple of days.

Now unfortunately a fine needle aspirate doesn't always give a complete diagnosis and you need to then move to a biopsy or an excision, removing the lump and sending that off, but that's obviously more invasive. It requires heavy sedation or anesthesia and surgery and so a fine needle aspirate in the majority of lumps is a great first step. If more advanced treatment is given then it could also be that you vet also wants to carry out other test like blood samples or xrays.

When it comes to mammary masses however, unfortunately a fine needle aspirate is generally not really super useful because the mass cell population can be very mixed. So when it comes to mammary tumors it can be very hard to interpret an FNA with any degree of accuracy. So it might be that you get one type of cell on the FNA sample, but it may very well be that because there's a mixed population we're not getting a representative sample.

Now if we're thinking about mammary tumors again, then about half are malignant, meaning that they're nasty cancers that they have the potential to spread to other parts of the body. The other 50% percent are benign.

Having said that, we think of benign as something that we don't need to worry about. Well, benign mammary tumors definitely can cause problems. They might not spread to other parts of the body, but they can get really big, they can become ulcerated, they can be painful, and they can definitely be detrimental to a dog's quality of life. They can in fact ultimately be a reason for euthanasia if they've got to a stage that they're getting so big and ulcerated and causing so many problems.

So really removal in the early stages is the best option for a successful outcome when it comes to any type of mammary tumor. Now it might be that these particular masses in question aren't mammary tumors and so we don't need to worry but this should give you some point to think about whenever you feel any mass, wherever it is found on your dog.

The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr. Alex Answers Show” podcast.

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