Skin cancer in cats is most commonly caused by Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). It is usually caused by long-term exposure to sunlight and UV rays, just like much skin cancer in humans. However, because cats are covered in fur, the areas affected tend to be limited to those thin furred, thin skinned areas such as the nose and ears. It is most common in white or light coloured cats.
What does skin cancer look like in cats?
Early signs of skin cancer are areas of skin irritation in the commonly affected areas (ear tips, nose and eyelids) which do not heal quickly and do not respond to standard treatment for skin infections. They can become crusty and start bleeding.
In some cases, more obvious lumps may develop.
How is skin cancer diagnosed?
If your vet suspects skin cancer after examining your cat, they will recommend a biopsy. This will involve a small sample of the area being surgically removed and sent to a laboratory for assessment. If the area affected is the ear tip, they may recommend full removal of the ear flap straight away to ensure the cancer is removed.
Further investigations including samples of lymph nodes, or x-rays of the chest or abdomen, may be needed to check for evidence of spread of the cancer.
How is skin cancer treated?
The treatment will depend on the number of areas affected and the location and size of the tumours. Surgical removal is always best where possible but this may be complicated if the tumour is in a difficult place (such as the nose).
Referral to a specialist surgeon may be needed to get the best outcome for your cat. If the ear is the only place affected, amputation of the ear flap is easily performed. This does affect your cat’s cosmetic appearance but they do very well after this surgery and it doesn’t appear to affect them significantly.
If surgery is not possible, radiotherapy may be an option. You will need to be referred to a specialist veterinary oncologist for this treatment.
Can skin cancer be prevented?
Because skin cancer is usually caused by UV rays, reducing your cat’s exposure to sunlight is key to preventing it. White or light coloured cats should have their access to sunlight limited between about 10am and 3pm. Blinds or shades on windows can reduce the risk from sitting on windowsills.
Using a specially designed sunscreen on the nose and ears if your cat does have access to the sun will reduce the risk, but don’t use human sun creams as these may be toxic if licked off.