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Bumps and Lumps and Growths, Oh My!

Friday, December 01, 2017

Seth Glasser, DVM
Board Certified Veterinary Oncologist
Garden State Veterinary Specialists


As our pets age itís extremely common for them to develop lumps and growths in their skin or underneath the skin. Finding them can bring about terrible thoughts like he or she now has cancer. Sometimes they are solitary while other times there can be many at the same time. Sometimes they feel firm or soft, moveable or fixed, raised or flat. Unfortunately, based on the characteristics just listed one cannot definitively say if these masses are benign (not cancer) or malignant or if they need to be removed. Feel or texture alone is not sufficient. To make a diagnosis any skin change or mass needs to be addressed. If a new growth is found you should consult with your petís veterinarian.

Visual inspection. In certain cases a doctor can be somewhat certain what a growth is simply by examining your pet. Not every lump needs to be removed but determining what it is, is of utmost importance. Realize a definitive diagnosis cannot be achieved without analyzing the cells that make up the mass. If a conservative approach is taken but the mass is rapidly growing/changing or is bothering your pet it must be sampled or removed. I do not recommend this approach. I think itís important to sample growths. This allows us to put our minds at ease so we know we are not putting our pets in harms way by not removing a growth that truly should be removed at an early stage.

Cytology- The least invasive technique to identify a skin growth is a fine needle aspirate. To perform this test a small needle is inserted into the growth and cells are removed. The removed cells are spread on a slide and submitted to a pathologist. Typically, this can be performed without sedation, however, sedation may be needed depending upon the location of the growth or if your pet is fussy with needles. It is possible for a non-diagnostic sample to be obtained if too few cells are collected or if the cells are too delicate. If this occurs or there is strong concern for a cancerous change a more invasive technique may be necessary.

Biopsy- A biopsy or piece of tissue is needed for histopathology and this is considered the gold-standard to making a definitive diagnosis. There are multiple kinds of biopsies but most require sedation or anesthesia. Biopsies provide the most information about a growth, and if determined to be cancer, provides the Oncologist useful information in helping to predict how aggressive a cancer may behave. Once a diagnosis is obtained the need for additional treatments or the need for referral to a specialist can be made.

The aforementioned does not replace the advice of your veterinarian. It is important to discuss your petís condition with your veterinarian to determine whether referral to a specialist is recommended.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for the professional advice of your veterinarian.

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