Tongue Cancer in Cats

Cancers of the mouth are the third leading type of cancer in cats after skin and breast cancers. Growths in a cat's mouth, including growths on the gums and tongue, make up three to four per cent of all cancers diagnosed in cats. Tongue cancer by itself, however, is relatively rare. Here is some information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of tongue cancer in cats.


The causes of many types of cancer in cats are not known. As with humans, genetics are believed to play a role. Carcinogens in the environment increase the likelihood of cancer, and middle-aged cats are most likely to develop tongue cancer. For tongue masses specifically, causes may include trauma to the tongue, or non-cancerous growths such as warts and calcium deposits. Benign tumours of the tongue can include granular cell myoblastoma, and there are several possible cancerous masses that can affect the tongue. These include squamous cell carcinomas, mass cell tumours, fibrosarcomas, malignant melanomas, hemangiosarcomas and other types of sarcoma masses.


Symptoms of cancers in the mouth include drooling, difficulty eating, and lumps or growths on the tongue or gums. If the tumour is specific to the tongue alone, it may not produce noticeable symptoms, and pet owners are unlikely to notice it until it is large and visible. Additional symptoms may include increased salivation, bad mouth odour, pawing at the mouth, dropping food while eating or having difficulty eating, not eating, losing weight, blood coming from the mouth and breathing difficulty.


If a cat is exhibiting symptoms of mouth cancer, the veterinarian must first determine that the growths are not infected masses. The veterinarian will begin with a physical examination of the cat. The doctor will likely take a biopsy from the mass on the cat's tongue. Additional testing may include a complete blood count, chemistry profile, urinalysis, chest X-rays and biopsy of any enlarged lymph nodes.


If the cat's tumour is benign, it will likely be removed in a simple surgical procedure. If the tumour is malignant and spreading, the veterinarian may also perform surgery, removing part of the cat's tongue. Chemotherapy and/or radiation may also be part of treatment. After surgery, the cat will have dissolvable sutures in its tongue. The cat will be fed canned or softened food for a couple weeks as it heals.


Treatment effectiveness will depend on how early the cat's disease was found and therapy begun. The prognosis also depends on the type of tumour and where it was located. The veterinarian will provide information about the specific prognosis of a pet based on the cat's specific type of cancer and the stage it was in when treatment began.

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About the Author

Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.