What is Digital Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Dogs?
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death for dogs and it comes in all shapes and sizes. While some cancerous growths are benign – not dangerous – others can cause serious health issues. One of the most dangerous forms of cancer in dogs is a carcinoma – these growths can develop anywhere on your dog’s body, even on his toes!
Understanding Squamous Cell Carcinoma
A carcinoma is a cancerous growth and it is one of the most persistent forms of cancer – it has the potential to return with a vengeance even after being removed from the body. Carcinomas can also metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body.
Digital squamous cell carcinoma is a specific form of cancer that affects epithelial cells in particular, usually around the nail on the dog’s toes. This form of cancer usually starts in the skin around the nail but it can spread into the tissue and bone. In most cases, digital squamous cell carcinoma only affects one toe and it usually grows slowly enough that you can catch it before it spreads to another part of the body.
A digital squamous cell carcinoma is technically a tumor, though it looks like a small reddish nodule. These nodules look like blisters but they are not filled with fluid and, unlike a blister, it causes the affected tissue to eventually die.
Some of the most common symptoms of digital squamous cell carcinoma in dogs include swelling in the toe or foot, limping or changes in gait, bleeding ulcer on the toe, broken nail, and the development of a raised mass of skin on the toe. Unfortunately, there is no known cause for digital squamous cell carcinoma in dogs.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
Though cancer can affect dogs of all breeds and ages, digital squamous cell carcinoma seems to be more common in black-colored and large-breed dogs, especially Standard Poodles and Labrador Retrievers. This type of cancer is also more common in older dogs (age 10 or older).
Related: Digital Squamous Cell Carcinoma
In order for your vet to diagnose your dog’s digital squamous cell carcinoma he will need a thorough history of symptoms and he will need to perform a complete physical exam as well. During the exam, your veterinarian will probably check other areas of your dog’s body to make sure that the cancer hasn’t spread – he will also check for signs of an underlying infection. X-rays will help to determine whether there are any growths on your dog’s lungs and an x-ray of his foot can help to determine how deep the tumor has worked its way into the tissue and bone.
Treatment options for digital squamous cell carcinoma vary depending on the extent of the damage to the tissue and bone. In many cases, surgical amputation of the affected digit is required and, in severe cases, the dog may require radiation and/or chemotherapy after the amputation. Unfortunately, most dogs have a 1-year survival rate even after treatment for digital squamous cell carcinoma. For dogs that undergo amputation, a 1-year survival rate is seen in 95% of cases. If the tumor has spread to other parts of the body, 60% of cases achieve a 1-year survival rate.
After your dog has been treated for digital squamous cell carcinoma he should have no trouble adapting to the loss of a digit. As is true with any major medical condition, you need to be very careful to keep up with your dog’s regular vet checkups in the future to prevent a recurrence.
Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.
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