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Is That Lump On Your Dog Cancer? Three Reasons Not To Worry—Too Much

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Perhaps you're brushing your pup or scratching his or her belly. You suddenly discover a small bump on your dog's skin that you've never noticed before. Your heart does a little flip flop, and your mind races ahead to the image of your vet sadly pronouncing the verdict: cancer. Finding a growth on your furry friend is certainly a scary experience. But the good news is, in most cases, a growth or lump is benign. However, only your vet can say for sure, so don't just ignore it and hope it will go away. If it is cancer, the earlier you catch it, the better the prognosis.

Name That Bump

There are countless types of growths that can pop up on your dog's skin. Here are 3 of the most common categories of growths, and chances are, the lump you found on your pup falls into one of them.

Lipoma. This is one of the most common types of lumps found in dogs. These fatty tumors are soft, rounded, growths that are present just under the skin. They are almost always benign, except for a rare type called an infiltrative lipoma, and usually appear on the chest, abdomen, and armpits of older or overweight dogs. Unless a lipoma grows to the point of being a discomfort to your dog, or it is malignant, it usually won't need to be removed.

Cyst. This is a general category of abnormal skin growths. A cyst is a closed sac filled with air, liquid, or semi-liquid. There are many kinds of dog skin cysts, most all of them benign. The most common type of cyst is a sebaceous cyst, which is caused by a plugged oil gland or hair follicle. Unless a cyst is tested and shown to be cancerous or has grown large enough to interfere with a dog's movement, a cyst can be left as is or cut to remove its contents.

Wart. Papillomas or warts are common, non-cancerous growths caused by the papilloma virus. Usually dogs who get several warts have a weakened immune system. They typically develop on the skin of the face, feet, eyelids, or external sex organs. Although most warts do not pose a problem for your pup, some may cause your dog to itch or scratch at the area. They can also get in the way when grooming and clipping your dog. Consult with your veterinarian about whether to remove the growth.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Of course, not all lumps and bumps will fall into one of these 3 categories, and even if they do, they can on rare occasions still be cancerous. There is no way to tell for sure if a growth is malignant without consulting your dog's veterinarian.

If you discover a lump, your veterinarian will ask about the dog's medical history and whether the lump has changed in size, shape, or color since it was first discovered. He or she will likely do a fine needle aspiration, which entails withdrawing a small amount of liquid and looking at the cells under a microscope. If cells are suspicious, he or she will likely do a biopsy and send a tissue sample to a lab to determine the type of growth and whether it is malignant.

The treatment for a particular growth depends on the type of tumor, its size and where it's located. Your dog's overall physical condition is also a factor. For benign lumps and bumps that don't impair your pup's normal routine, leaving it alone might be the most prudent option, especially in older dogs. When a growth is malignant, surgical removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue is usually the most effective, has the fewest side-effects and is the least expensive.  Chemotherapy or radiation can also be used to eradicate the tumor or at least prolong your furry friend's life.

All bumps and lumps on pets need to be evaluated by a veterinarian to ensure early treatment and the best prognosis. Chances are good that the growth is simply a consequence of aging, but it's always better to be on the safe side. If it's nothing to worry about, at least you'll have peace of mind.