A very common question that readers post on this blog goes something like this:
“I found a lump. It is (description) and is on my dog’s (body part). Is it anything to worry about?”
It helps to widen back and look at lumps in dogs generally to help clarify this topic. What’s the number one cause of dog death, if we exclude euthanasia? Dog cancer. How does dog cancer most commonly look to the naked eye? It looks like a lump.
When we find a lump on a dog, this should be a red flag. A certain reaction should be happening in the mind of the dog lover. First, both veterinarians and dog guardians should know the number one most dangerous health problem that exists for dogs, the most likely problem that could take a dog away..cancer.
We have been negligent in spreading this information to dog guardians. And by “we”, I include the group I am a member of: veterinarians. Vets should have this information and be spreading it in the same way we talk about parvo and heartworm disease.
For some reason we don’t. Perhaps it is because bringing up cancer in a discussion feels a little out of bounds since we don’t want to upset our clients. Or it could be that there has not been a marketing push like there is for parvo vaccination or for heartworm disease. Since we have access to preventatives in these cases, pharmaceutical companies make a point to help spread the word about these diseases.
This is not wrong, of course. Why not protect a dog from a problem when it is prudent to do so? (The vaccination debate is discussed elsewhere…)
So why would a guardian wonder what to do if a lump popped up? Clearly, if a woman found a lump in her breast, she would most likely be at the doctor’s promptly. Why? Because there has been enough press on breast cancer that finding the lump would raise a red flag, sparking the thought that breast cancer happens.
But in veterinary medicine, there is a mental disconnect between lumps in dogs and cancer, in spite of the statistics.
The answer to the question of what to do if a lump is found on a loved dog is this: go to your vet and get it checked! Get it aspirated, get it biopsied, get the data you need!
Can a vet diagnose a lump by looking at it? Very occasionally, but usually not. Can a vet diagnose a lump by squeezing it? Very occasionally, but usually not.
One of my pet peeves (sorry, bad pun) is the diagnosis of a benign fatty tumor based on looking and touching alone. Soft, squishy bumps under the skin could indeed be harmless lipomas. But, they could also be dangerous growths like mast cell tumors, hemangiopericytomas, subcutaneous blood filled hemangiosarcomas, or liposarcomas. These all feel soft and squishy.
This brings a case to mind. Three weeks ago, a client brought her dog in to have a lump checked out. This had been previously diagnosed as a harmless lipoma at another veterinary hospital. It felt soft and squishy.
A fine needle aspirate was done on the growth at my hospital. I inserted a syringe with a needle in the growth, and pulled back on the plunger. Did fat enter the needle hub, which is what a fatty tumor would yield? No. The syringe filled with blood.
This was no lipoma. Blood filled swellings have their list of possibilities too, but one of them is a hemangiosarcoma under the skin, a malignant cancer. And over the 6 months that this growth had slowly increased in size with nothing done, the mass had swelled to about 4 inches across.
Now we had a big problem to deal with that could have been caught a long time ago.
The bottom line is this: remember the dog cancer statistics. According to the National Canine Cancer Foundation, 1 in 3 dogs will contract cancer in their lifetime, and this number increases to 1 in 2 if the dog is more than 10 years of age.
Get dog lumps checked!
For more information on dog lumps, how they are diagnosed, and their complete treatment options, check out The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.