Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lumps and bumps part 2: lump-be-gone

In part one I talked mostly about benign lumps such as lipomas, fatty tumors, that can often be left alone unless they are causing a specific problem.  This blog is dedicated to lumps that should not be left alone.  As a veterinarian, it makes me sad when I see a pet brought into the clinic with a tumor that has grown too large to be removed.  Usually the history given to me is that the growth showed up about a year ago and didn't look too bad.  Then it suddenly started to grow over the last week or two and by the time the pet is brought in for an exam it is either too late to do anything or if surgery is possible it would be so extensive that a referral to a board certified surgeon is necessary.  This is especially true of lumps and bumps on legs.  Remember that when a surgeon cuts a lump off an animal almost always they will have to remove the skin over the lump as well.  On legs especially, there is just not enough loose skin available to cover the surgical wound at least without using some special techniques. It is so much easier to just remove a leg lump when it is small.

As I mentioned in Part 1, I think part of the hesitation about bringing a pet in for an exam to have a lump checked is that we as humans are all afraid of getting a bad diagnosis.  But the good thing about lumps on the outside of the body where they can be seen is that we can do something about them early and that can lead to a good outcome.  Within the past year, I said goodbye to two of patients that will always remind me of what is possible by taking care of cancerous lumps earlier rather than later.  Both patients were diagnosed with cancer.  Buddy had a fairly aggressive mast cell tumor diagnosed in 2008.  Buddy actually had two surgeries to remove his cancer.  Daisy Mae had mammary gland (breast) cancer in 2007 and had a partial mastectomy.  Buddy and Daisy Mae both lived to around 16 years of age which is a fine lifetime for a dog.  I have no doubt that both their lives would have been considerably shorter if they had not had surgery early on to remove their cancerous tumors.

Buddy at age 16  

Gosh I love old dogs.

Unfortunately I don't have a picture of Daisy Mae, but I do want to discuss mammary cancer in dogs for just a bit.  There are many things unknown in our lives, but one thing that has been proven is that if you get a dog spayed before she is two years old, you can really decrease the risk of mammary cancer later in life.  Because of a dog's anatomy, a female dog has on average 10 mammary glands or a chain of 5 on each side, plus or minus.  Sometimes dogs will develop mammary cancer in multiple glands and when that happens, a complete mastectomy is done.  First one side and then the other if appropriate.  A female dog's mammary chain runs from the "armpit" area under the front leg all the back to the groin under the rear leg.  That means to get all the cancer, a surgeon has to make a VERY long incision.  It looks like this.

This little dog was 8 years old, not spayed and never used for breeding.  All this pain and suffering, and nearly always preventable by spaying while young.  Fortunately for this dog, she had an owner that was willing to treat her disease before it became inoperable.  If she makes it one year, she has a very good chance of her mammary cancer being gone for good.

The moral of Part 1 and Part 2 of the lumps and bumps blog?  If your pet  has a lump and you don't know what it is, please have it checked out sooner rather than later.  Time is ticking.