Lung Tumors | VCA Animal Hospital

What is a lung (pulmonary) tumor?

A lung (pulmonary) tumor is a type of cancer that develops from the disorganized and uncontrolled production of epithelial cells (a type of skin cell) found within lungs. The most common type of lung tumor is a lung carcinoma. Other types of tumors can develop in the lungs, but these are the result of metastasis (spread) of a tumor elsewhere in the body and are not considered primary lung tumors.

Primary lung tumors are rare in both dogs and cats.

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what causes this type of cancer?

The reason a particular pet might develop this or any type of cancer is not straightforward. very few cancers have a single known cause. most appear to be caused by a complex combination of risk factors, some environmental and some genetic or hereditary. certain breeds are particularly predisposed to developing lung carcinomas, including boxers, Doberman pinschers, Australian shepherds, Irish setters, Bernese mountain dogs, and Persian cats. As with people, exposure to cigarette smoke has also been linked to the development of lung tumors.

what are the clinical signs of lung cancer?

Clinical signs of lung cancer can vary. only about two-thirds of dogs and cats show clinical signs. those who do may have shortness of breath (labored or rapid breathing, even while resting), reduced ability to walk (exercise intolerance), decreased appetite, weight loss, cough or sneezing (with or without discharge or blood), lethargy and lameness.

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Some pets develop symptoms that occur at sites distant from the tumor or its metastasis, called paraneoplastic syndrome. paraneoplastic syndromes can affect many different body systems. signs may include fever, weakness (with low red blood cell counts and/or blood glucose), skin rashes and sores, hair loss, gastrointestinal ulcers, and drinking and urinating much more than normal (with high calcium in the blood). lameness related to excessive bone production (called hypertrophic osteopathy) may develop.

In cats, a specific syndrome called pulmonary finger syndrome can occur. this is the result of metastasis (spread) of lung carcinoma to the toes (digits) causing swelling, pain and lameness. See the brochure “Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Cats” for information on lung finger syndrome.

How are lung tumors diagnosed?

This type of tumor is often diagnosed incidentally via chest X-rays in older (senior or geriatric) pets. the diagnosis can be confirmed by ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration (FNA). fna involves taking a small needle with a syringe and sucking out a sample of cells directly from the tumor and placing them on a slide. A veterinary pathologist then examines the slide under a microscope.

These samples are not always valuable for diagnosis, and a biopsy (surgical removal of a part of the tumor) is required instead. parts of the tumor are then examined under the microscope. this is called histopathology.

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how does this cancer usually progress?

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Lung tumors have a high potential to spread to other parts of the body. metastasis to lung tissue or local lymph nodes in both cats and dogs is quite common. approximately 70% of dogs will have metastases to other lobes of the lung or lymph nodes, while 20% will have further spread to other parts of the body. 50-90% of cats will have metastases of some form.

Because metastasis is common, routine staging (looking for possible spread to other parts of the body) is strongly recommended. this may include blood tests, urinalysis, repeated X-rays or CT scans of the lungs, and possibly an abdominal ultrasound. CT scans provide details about how invasive the tumor is and its exact location, as well as details about lymph node involvement or indications of spread to other areas of the body.

In some cases, fluid can develop in or around the lungs, called a pleural effusion. If your pet is diagnosed with a pleural effusion, your veterinarian may recommend placing a needle and removing the fluid for diagnosis as well as symptomatic relief for your pet. the procedure to remove the fluid is called thoracentesis.

what are the treatments for this type of tumor?

For solitary tumors found in only one lobe of the lung, surgery is often the treatment of choice. your pet may be a candidate for a thoracoscopy; the medical procedure to examine the inside of the chest and biopsy or remove the tumor using an endoscope. thoracoscopy allows for a smaller incision that is less invasive. your veterinarian will recommend the best surgical procedure for your pet. during surgery, lymph nodes associated with the lung tissue may also be removed.

Radiation therapy may be recommended if surgery is not possible. chemotherapy may be recommended after surgery or in combination with radiation therapy if dissemination has been confirmed.

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