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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

New Approaches to Squamous Cell Cancer

Updated: November 15th, 2018

A cancer we see in from time to time veterinary hospitals is called squamous cell carcinoma.

Even though it is not as common as other cancers in dogs, for any dog lover coping with this diagnosis, it is a huge issue. These cancers are not fun.

First of all, especially in advanced cases, they are hard to remove completely. They tend to spread out into neighboring tissue, making complete removal hard at times. Sometimes they occur in areas that are hard to operate in like the nose or some areas in the mouth.

Sometimes radiation is used for squamous cell carcinoma treatment. Radiation can help shrink them to some extent.

If you are close to a veterinary university, you may be able to access photodynamic therapy, which is a way to use light waves to shrink these cancers.  This technique has shown real promise.

Another problem with squamous cell carcinomas is they have not responded well to chemotherapy. However, we may be looking at some new developments in this area that could help squamous cell carcinomas.

Recently it has been uncovered that this type of cancer, and some others,  may be susceptible to a particular class of substances. These are known as COX-2 inhibitors. Read more here.

Usually, these are drugs that have been used to control inflammation. Now it is being shown that they may help induce cancer cell suicide, and this cancer type is one where they may help.

Cancer cell suicide is called apoptosis.

Although we do not yet have perfect drugs to create this anti-cancer effect, there is some evidence that some of the COX-2 inhibitor drugs may help.

For those who want to use pharmaceuticals, an option to discuss is piroxicam. This was shown to help a bit in almost a third of dogs with squamous cell tumors. Here is the study to read for yourself.

There are also some natural compounds that can help. I have written about these at length in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, and also in this blog. These include things like curcumin, luteolin and others.

These substances are able to shut down the enzyme COX-2. This enzyme makes a chemical signal in the body called PGE-2. This chemical signal is a central player in the onset of  cancer as well as progression. It is nasty.

PGE-2 makes cancer cells resist apoptosis, which means they don’t die (like they should). Apoptosis genes that are supposed to be turned on in cancer cells, after they get deranged and start multiplying. Chemical signals like this one prevent these genes from turning on, and cancer cells are able to keep growing instead of being dismantled by apoptosis.

Your oncologist will be abreast of this information, and many veterinarians in private practice will be as well. However, if your dog has a squamous cell tumor and this topic has not come up, don’t be afraid to be your dog’s health advocate and bring it up!

You can get these supplements on line. Apocaps contains these agents in combination form, or you can get the indivudual ones. Here and here are some other posts on these supplements for more information.

All my best,

Dr D

Discover the Full Spectrum Approach to Dog Cancer

Leave a Comment

  1. Erin on January 30, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    Do you have any information on electrochemotherapy as an option for scc? Thank you

  2. Brenda Eckler on May 20, 2018 at 7:33 am

    Good afternoon Dr.’s,
    I have a nearly 13 year old male pure breed English Blockhead Black Lab who was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma in his nasal cavity in late June 2016. We were told it was highly aggressive and it had developed quite badly. According to the biopsy of a tumor located in his right nostril (it looked lie a pink pea) he had 95 days to live. Yes, he is still with us! In March 2017 he was placed on Piroxicam and Prilosec and they have been highly effective in his treatment, In fact, he has had several tumors come and go since June 2016. Currently, he has developed not only a tumor in his right nostril, but another next to his nostril and a “crust”, if you will on top of his nose. He also is suffering from arthritis. He is not overweight as we try to keep his weight in a normal range, he weighs about 85 pounds. In the past week, we have noticed (red) blood in his stool at the end of his movement. His appetite and bowel movements have been normal to this point. He is less active, we believe, based on his arthritis. His breathing is normal through the nostril (at this point) but pants regularly. We are not sure if he is in distress or just overheated (we live in the northeast and not in a warm climate). Here is our question: Does Squamous Cell Carcinoma become immune to Piroxicam over time. It seems this tumor is much more agressive than those in the past and we wonder, if perhaps, the Piroxicam is no longer working. Any input would be helpful. We thank you in advance for any info!

    • DogCancerBlog on May 21, 2018 at 9:33 am

      Hi Brenda, thanks for writing, and we’re so sorry to hear about your sweet boy, and so glad that he’s been with you for so long! We’re not veterinarians here in customer support, so we can’t offer you medical advice, but there are a couple of things to consider. First, the blood in the stool is certainly not a good sign and you should definitely have your veterinarian check that out. Red blood can indicate a problem in the lower intestine. Panting regularly is not necessarily a bad sign, but definitely can be a sign your dog is in pain. As Dr. Dressler points out in this post, if there is inflammation or tissue injury, you should assume there is pain. https://www.dogcancerblog.com/blog/life-quality-is-my-dog-in-pain/ With both blood in the stool and the tumor crusting, it sounds like there are at least two sources of possible pain. As Dr. Ettinger points out in her chapter on nasal tumors in their book, nasal tumors are generally pretty aggressive — and the median survival time is three months without treatment. Piroxicam might still be working, in the sense that it is still reducing the inflammation associated with the tumor, but may not be enough after all this time to keep it in control. 🙁 Longterm use of NSAIDs like piroxicam can be hard on the digestive tract, too, so it could be contributing to that digestive issue. There is no way for us to know for sure, of course, because we aren’t vets and this is an online forum, but it may be just that these signs mean you are nearing the end. 🙁 Not necessarily TODAY, but sometime soon you may need to consider comfort care. Your veterinarian will definitely have some ideas about how to address the immediate symptoms and help your boy feel better at the moment, and may even have other ideas for treatment, but with nasal tumors where no surgery or radiation is done, the use of piroxicam is sort of the last resort Dr. E lists in chapter on nasal tumors. But maybe there is something else to consider! Please check with your veterinarian about the possible pain and the blood in the stool, and we hope that you know you have done really well by your boy given his initial prognosis. Wow sixteen months!

      • Brenda Eckler on June 12, 2018 at 2:08 am

        Thank you so much for your reply!
        Our boy visited the vet regarding his digestive issue and was placed on anti bacterial meds and it worked! No more blood in stool and his stool seems to be back to normal. Phew! While visiting, the vet indicated that the tumor is one that he would have expected to see 2 years ago (based on his biopsy results). Ergo, I think we only have a few more months with him if I read into his comment. We continue with the Piroxicam and Prilosec. The vet is completely amazed that he has survived 2 years since original diagnosis and biopsy. In fact, he states his survival is impossible based on the biopsy. Have a feeling they read the slide wrong or switched my pups slide with another pup. I hope they were not switched as a family out there lost their pup sooner than expected.

        If anyone is in a similar situation out there, I highly suggest utilizing the Prioxicam and Prilosec. It has done wonders for our boy. We had 4 options: radiation, chemo, surgery to remove his nose, and Piroxicam. In good conscience, based on his age, we could not agree to first 3 options. Honestly, I think his arthritis bothers him even more than the carcinoma.


  3. Joanne Lanskail on September 4, 2014 at 7:07 am

    My 12 year old toy Manchester was recently diagnosed with tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma. Surgery is not an option. She is on a diet regimen and supplement but
    am wondering if Palladia or Photodynamic therapy would be possibilities. I know this is an aggressive cancer but is there anything that will help her with quality of life and hopefully extend her life.

  4. Eric on June 3, 2013 at 2:53 am

    my cavalier had surgery to remove a mass on his tonsils and then underwent a series of radiation and chemo.
    Since then he chokes on both food and water. he cannot lap water and is being fed by hand and water is through a syringe.

    Does anyone have any suggestions on feeding with these choking symptoms??
    he is losing weight rapidly and we are afraid he will succumb if we do not find a way to feed him.

  5. Gineen on February 6, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    UPDATE: My yellow lab named Armondo that I posted about on August 22, 2012 above, had to be put down today dispite my efforts to save him. His SSC grew to the point where it blocked his airway and this morning his breathing was very very labored. I gathered him up immediately and took him to my vet. By the time I got there, he had gotton very pale. I hugged him while the doctor gave him his injection and he passed away. I am filled with sorrow. Back in October I took him to the Animal Specialty Center where he had 3 cyberknife treatments. I was hoping that the treatment would give Armondo at least another year. Initially, it looked promising as by the middle of November the tumor had disappeared. Then a month later in December it came back with avengence, it had grown from nothing to 2cm in a month. So the writing was on the wall and my vet sent me home with a months worth of prednizone. Armondo lasted about a month and 1/2 from December to today. May you rest in peace my baby boy.

    • Dr. Susan Ettinger on February 8, 2013 at 6:44 pm

      I am so sorry about Armondo!! He was a fabulous dog, and I was honored to meet him. His tumor was so aggressive, but know you did all you could and gave him every chance. He was lucky to have you as him mom!
      With sympathy, Dr Sue

  6. Leah Panganiban on November 12, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    My dog, Sophie, has adenocarcinoma and very high calcium levels. She also has diarrhea and has trouble going to the bathroom. She has received pamidronate and is on mirtazapine and prednisone. Below is the list of medications and supplements I am considering giving her. Are there any of these medications and supplements she should not take or should not take in combination with another drug?

    Mirtazapine 15mg tablets
    Prednisone 20mg tablets
    Beta Glucan
    Krill Oil

    Thank you for your help.

  7. GIGI on November 5, 2012 at 10:24 am


  8. Gineen on September 1, 2012 at 10:16 am


    I just saw your post back in February of this year. Have the Apocaps worked for you? If so how long did they help him? I am so worried about the same thing you are. I started giving my dog Apocaps, but I don’t know if it is working. I am sorry that you have/had to go through this too. I too don’t know what I am in for. Is there anything you would have done different? I know that for both of us the end doesn’t look good but I just wish I could somehow know the signs when my dogs breathing becomes so labored that it is time to put him down. Right now he is still happy and eating.
    Wishing you and Ty the best.

  9. Gineen on August 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Hi Dr D.
    I have researching things and it is causing me to have many questions, one of which is soy lecithin (I read that it could actually increase tumor size) and soy.
    Can you comment on this which is a part of many ingredients claiming to be good for dogs and humans?
    Thank you
    P.S. My appointment with Cornell has been moved to Sept 5, which is sooner, 6 more days but my dog is coughing more, swallowing harder, etc. I have your apocaps, onco, krill, better dog food, vitamin C and probiotics, I dont know what more I can do.

  10. Gineen on August 22, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Dr. D.

    Would or neoplasene cause my dogs tumor to sloth off and leave a hole and possibly get into his lungs?


  11. Gineen on August 22, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Hi Dr. D.,
    I have an 11 yr. and 4 mth old yellow lab that has a SCC behind his epiglattus.
    It is 2X4 cm. My local Vet visualized the tumor about a week and 1/2 ago by looking in his throat while sedated. She also said the the tumor involves the arytenoid cartilage.
    His symptoms are horse voice, occasional gagging as of late, and loud snoring. He’s happy, no decreased appetite, however I have to encourage him to drink and he was a big water drinker before this. I notice the louder breathing about 6 months ago and it has got increasingly louder. My local vet also xrayed his lungs and read them as clear.
    I have consulted with a surgeon. He had my Vet’s notes and said that since the tumor is in a difficult place and involves the surrounding area, sugery could not get it all with clean margins. He said that the oncologist on staff has experimented with freezing, however in this case since the tumor is in the airway, he was concerned that the tumor would end up in my dogs lungs when it fell off. The oncloygist was not there to consult with, and the surgeon said that he would speak with him about our options and get back to me on Friday Aug, 24 2012. So now I am waiting. But what I would really like to do is get as much of the tumor out that is possible without alturing the dogs anatomy to buy him some time and try other options to shrink it. I told the surgeon this and he said that I could spend a lot of money, e.g., $2500 for surgery and get only a month. He said there is no way to know how long it would give my dog. In the mean time nothing is getting done and time is going by.
    So I have contacted Cornell University, he has an appointment with them on Sept 11, 2012. I feel like it will be too late by then. Right now all I have to look forward to is my dog choking to death!!!
    I don’t know what to do and I want the best for him in terms of quality of life. I have started him on a better diet and took some of your suggestions.
    Considering what I have told you is there is anything else that I should be doing? I feel like he is not getting the help he needs and running from one dr to another is just taking more time, I am confused and it is hard to stay on one path.

  12. Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatments Available in Los Angeles | CANCER BLOG on August 13, 2012 at 9:40 am

    […] Cancer -Causes, Symptoms and TreatmentGene Associated With Aggressive Skin Cancer FoundNew Approaches to Squamous Cell Cancer .recentcomments a{display:inline !important;padding:0 !important;margin:0 !important;} […]

  13. Anne Stewart on April 30, 2012 at 6:04 am

    Is there anything I can buy to help stop a bleeding oral squamous cell carcinoma for my dog. She is 12 years old. I am giving her ES Clear. I have read about yunnan baiyao, but don’t know if there might be something else I can get for her. The ES Clear is certainly helping her to eat better and she seems to feel better

  14. Ronald on March 28, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Dear Dr Dressler,
    I need your help urgently my 8yr old Golden retriever Shannon has been diagnosed with Tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma . Her right tonsil is is affected and she has a tumour the size of my fist .She is at present treated with Metacam a Cox 2 inhibitor . However i have heard That Neoplascene compound is a possible treatment .. I am in the Uk and my Vet has not heard of this compound and how the dog can be treated with it . Would appreciate any help you can provide.

  15. Ayana on May 6, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Dear Dr. Dressler,

    I have a 12 yo Sheltie (he’ll be 13 in July) that was recently diagnosed w/ non-tonsillar oral SCC. Presently there’s no metastasis and no spread to his lymph nodes, but the location (lower right mandible in the back) has made surgery a difficult option. He has great energy and is showing no outward signs of disease. I have read the Guide and have switched his diet and implemented supplements, all which he has tolerated really well (he actually gained 3 lbs. since the diet change and now weighs 15 lbs), and I’m seeing an excellent holistic veterinarian, who’s giving him a homeopathic remedy as well. His vet oncologist has suggested either palliative or full course radiation. The palliative doesn’t seem like it would do much except possibly slow tumor growth, and he’s not in any pain so I’m not sure that option would do much. I’m seriously considering the full course radiation, b/c I’m told it could be curative or at least stop the tumor’s growth, but as his guardian, I don’t want to compromise his quality of life.

    He was otherwise perfectly normal until I discovered this mass, which I thought was an infection. What would you suggest in this case?

    • DemianDressler on May 18, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      Dear Ayana,
      I am sorry to hear about your Sheltie.
      the important thing is to get some numbers to deal with from the radiation oncologist to help arm you with the information for your particular dog. How many respond? What is the cure rate? What is the median added life expectancy (how much time do we gain on the “average”)? What are the odds of side effects for this tumor with radiation? What are they?
      These are important questions to be asking to help you with these decisions as discussed in the Guide. We also cannot forget the other areas of treatment (diet, apoptogens, immune support, and so on..)
      I hope this helps
      Dr D

  16. Mandy on April 30, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Hi Dr Dressler
    We have got 2 scotish terrier terriers, both 1 year. I am very afraid of them getting cancer as I have read multiple articles stating that scotties are prone to cancer, especially bladder cancer. With that my gran has lost 2 scotties 2 years ago from cancer and now her next scottie has bladder cancer. Knowing all of this I would like to ensure that, should my scotties get cancer we catch it early.

    What is your recommendation for early detection – should we look at having them scanned annually, if so from what age?


  17. Nancy on April 20, 2011 at 9:15 am

    I have an almost 14 year old lab with nasal squamous cell carcinoma, like Devon above. Do you suggest the radiation treatments as the best? University of Penn. said she wasn’t a candidate for the photodynamic therapy??

    • DemianDressler on April 20, 2011 at 5:51 pm

      Dear Nancy,
      the most important thing for you is to get data about your particular dog from the people who would deliver the radiation. Radiation is the conventional standard of care for these tumors. But there is a lot to consider. Have you read the Guide? This is important. What is your dog’s normal life expectancy? How much does your dog stand to gain from radiation? Are you prepared for frequent anesthesia? You need to sit down and look at the big picture and define what kind of person you are and what values are most important for you as a Guardian. You should be also looking at diet, immune support, supplements like apocaps, and possibly neoplasene oral and nebulized. All under veterinary supervision, of course.
      Dr D

  18. Carla on February 16, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Dear Dr. Dressler,
    My beloved 8 yr old Papillon Ty was recently diagnosed with Tonsillar Squamous cell cancer Dec.1, 2010. I immediately took him to an oncologist and bought your book. I found out from the oncologist that his tumor was inoperable because of carotid artery involvement and poor margins. We tried Carboplatin and Meloxicam and it failed, the tumor continued to grow! Following your directions in your book I switched my dog’s diet, put him on various herbs, Omega 3, K9 Immunity, super antioxidants, holistic med, probiotics and enzymes. His condition improved and growth seemed to slow down for awhile. He also gets occasional acupuncture and Ozone therapy. Unfortunately, the tumor has decided to start to grow rather swiftly again, so I am now trying applications of Sodium Nitroprusside which also seems to be ineffective. I am now in a complete panic!!! Do you think that Apopcaps could help? Is there ANYTHING that can help slow this beast down??? PLEASE! Can You HELP us?? I can’t bear the thought of this tumor slowly choking him to death! What should I do??? He seems so healthy otherwise!!
    Carla and Ty

    • DemianDressler on March 8, 2011 at 10:34 pm

      Dear Carla,
      In my practice, we would use Apocaps. I would consider it with your veterinarian’s input.
      I hope this helps,
      Dr D

  19. Trish on October 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

    I just found out yesterday that my 6 year old Boston Terrier (Roscoe) has tonsillar oral squamous cell carcinoma. I am devistated. He went into sugery last week to get a lump removed because we believed it was a growth related to the thyroid. They removed the right thyroid, all of the growth and then found the right tonsil was swollen and hard so they removed that as well. I was just not prepared for this diagnosis. Everything I read says this type of cancer is “very aggressive and has a poor prognosis”. I don’t know what to do. I hope to see an oncologist soon, but it’s at least 4 hours away so I don’t think I can do radiation and I’m not even sure I want to. I don’t know where to begin and I can hardly think I only have 3-6 months left with Roscoe… but if I do I want them to be as pleasent for him as possible. What are you thoughts?

  20. Joe Sapp on October 18, 2010 at 6:45 am

    My 12 yr old female standard poodle (this line of s. poodles routinely lives 14+years) was diagnosed with scc in a salivary duct with no sign of metastasis. The tumor was removed surgically with indication of margin breach in one spot. Lymph nodes were clear. Radiation of her tongue was recommended with high hopes of good results. However when went in to U of GA vet school teaching hospital for her first radiation an xray showed a tumor in her lung which had not been there before her surgery( 3 weeks previous). Now she is having chemo with carboplatin and piroxicam( 7mg/24hr for 24 kg dog) with the plan being to re-xray in 6 wks to evaluate results. I have Apocaps and need to know whether I can safely give concurrently with piroxicam.The oncologist knows about Apocaps but has no opinion as to safe administration. I saw your comment that Apocaps concurrently with antiflammatories may agravate gastric irritation but am desperate to do anything I can for Sydney. Please comment.

  21. dianna champ on June 23, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    My pot bellied pig Olivia has squamous cell carcinoma on the inside of her cheek. it was removed twice but grew back within a few weeks. She is just starting her third month of palladia, with no signs of the tumor growing back. I just want to know if there is anything else I should be doing for her or she should be taking in addition to the palladia? I know its hard to compare a potbelly pig to a dog, but with no information to compare, her oncologist is somewhat at a loss, and any information would be greatly appreciated.

  22. Devon Vann on June 21, 2010 at 6:36 am

    My 13 yo golden retriever has just been dx’d with squamous cell carcinoma. The tumor is in his nose; you can see (and smell) the damage. I’m wondering about tx options- we are about an 1.5 hour away from the closest radiation treatment, and it is cost-prohibitive for us (not to mention that I am 8 mos pregnant, and it will be difficult for me to get him to daily txs w/ the distance, and lifting involved). I haven’t ruled out radiation entirely- he is our 1st baby, but I’m curious about other possible tx options. Also, how much time do you think he has? Thank you for providing so much useful info,

  23. Joanne fountain on April 29, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Hi, firstly thanks so much for all you do. I have a question and would be grateful if you could offer your opinion. My dog has multiple cutaneous plasmacytoma on her legs. She suffered badly from immune mediated polyarthritis when she was 2 and I had to keep her on pred for 2 years to stabilise it (she is now 9). I am interested in using acopaps but did not notice curcumin in the ingredients. Is it ok to use acopaps and curcumin. Thanks so much for your help. I am under an oncologist in the uk however I would like to get as many opinions as possible. Best jo

  24. georgina crewe on April 5, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Dear Dr Dressler.
    I am a veterinarian in Johannesburg South Africa I enjoy your blog, I find it balanced and informative.
    I would like to contribute to the SCC information. It is frightening to realise the effects of global warmining on animal cancers in the southern hemisphere. The fact that you only see SCC occasionally, whilst 50% of dogs and 95% of the cats that are refferred to me are sufferring from SCCs makes one very aware of the damage to the ozone in the Southern Hemisphere.
    The low ozone cover in S Hemisphere is due to pollution (mainly from N Hemisphere) and consequent destruction of the ozone. This enables the UVB fraction of UV ray to penetrate the basal cell of the skin, mutating the DNA and causing the SCC to develop.
    The most successful treatment we have, even in severe cases is; radiation to shrink the tumour, operate, then radiate again. We use electrons to a depth of 2cms, low dose often, ie 2Gy plus bolus per treatment 3X weekly.
    Enviromental control is Lycra bodysuits for the dogs (we make them in 5 sizes) and for the cats and ‘inside’ dogs UV block on the windows (leave infrared and visible light) and the pets stay in during the day.
    All best wishes
    Georgina Crewe BVSc, MSc.

    • Dr. Dressler on April 5, 2010 at 6:40 pm

      Dear Dr. Crewe,
      Thank you so much for this informative input!
      All my best,
      Dr D

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