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

New Approaches to Squamous Cell Cancer

Updated: March 24th, 2020

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

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. 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.

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