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Skin Cancer and Your Dog: What You Should Know

Stray dog skin disease
If you own a dog, you may be surprised to learn that health issues like skin cancer can affect not only you but also your dog too. Skin cancer in dogs is an issue that you should learn more about. Then, you can be sure that you take your dog to the veterinarian at the first sign of any abnormalities with their skin.
There Are Different Types of Skin Cancer That Affect Dogs
Much like with humans, there is not just one type of skin cancer that can affect your dog. There are several different types of skin cancer a dog can suffer from.
Mast Cell Tumors
Mast cell tumors are the most common type of skin cancer that can affect a dog. They develop in the mast cells of the immune system, specifically in the blood. While many mast cell tumors develop on the skin, they can also occur internally, affecting the spleen, liver, and other organs.
Veterinarians do not have a consensus on what causes mast cell tumors. However, sometimes, dogs that tend to have skin irritation or inflammation (such as from severe allergic reactions) develop mast cell tumors more readily.
Mast cell tumors can vary quite a bit in appearance and shape. Some are small bumps just under the surface of the skin and others can be extremely irritated-looking and might even be ulcerated.
Malignant Melanoma
Another form of skin cancer that can affect dogs is known as malignant melanoma. This form of cancer develops originally in the cells of the skin that produce pigmentation. These cells are known as melanocytes.
Many dogs that develop malignant melanomas actually do so on the soft tissues of the mouth rather than on the surface of the skin, though both are possible. Malignant melanomas of the gingiva, tongue, and lips commonly occur.
Unlike people, most dogs do not develop malignant melanomas as the result of sun exposure (UV ray exposure). Instead, the development of this form of cancer comes from a combination of factors including genetic predispositions.
Malignant melanomas can vary from minor to severe depending on the tumor size and growth rate. This form of cancer does have a high tendency to metastasize (or spread) to other areas of the body.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The third form of skin cancer in dogs is squamous cell carcinoma. This form of cancer develops in the cells of the epidermis, which is the outermost layer of skin cells on your dog's body.
Squamous cell carcinoma only accounts for about five percent of cases of skin cancer in dogs. It is generally caused by sun exposure, although researchers have also linked certain viral infections to the development of squamous cell carcinoma.
While tumors of this type do grow slowly, they can be quite aggressive in nature. This can lead to a great deal of tissue loss around the tumor. But unlike malignant melanomas, they do not have a strong tendency to spread to the lymph nodes and metastasizing throughout the body.
Treatments for Skin Cancer in Dogs
If you were to find a growth or tumor on your dog's skin, your first step should be to take them to the veterinarian for assessment. Sometimes, the growths you find may not be skin cancer at all but benign cysts or warts. However, most veterinarians will take a needle aspiration biopsy of a growth, even if they believe it to be benign.
Should the growth turn out to be skin cancer, the first line of treatment will be the surgical removal of the growth. Veterinary surgeons will remove not only the tumor but also a margin of seemingly healthy tissue around the tumor to ensure that all cancer cells are successfully removed.
If your veterinarian fears that your dog's skin cancer has spread, particularly in the case of malignant melanomas, they may also recommend radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. However, these are not commonly needed in cases of skin cancer that can be surgically removed.
Now that you know more about skin cancer in dogs and what you can do about it, be sure you take your dog to the vet at the first sign of any abnormal growths on their skin.