How to treat a sarcoma in a cat

Written by sandra parker
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How to treat a sarcoma in a cat
Cats of all ages are susceptible to developing vaccine-related sarcomas. (cat image by Darren Ager from

The term "sarcoma" refers to a specific type of cancerous tumour. Usually, the term is accompanied by a prefix that denotes the location of the tumour. For example, osteosarcoma refers to a tumour located in the bone. In cats, the most common sarcoma is the vaccine-associated feline sarcoma. This type of tumour is caused by the cat's reaction to a vaccine. It is crucial that you treat a sarcoma in a cat, as many of this kind can ultimately be fatal to the cat if left untreated.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Needle and syringe

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  1. 1

    Understand what causes vaccine-related sarcomas. Vaccine associated sarcomas are soft tissue tumours that form in the skin, muscle, and connective tissues. In years past, feline vaccines were routinely given between the shoulder blades. Over the past ten years or so, veterinarians have become increasingly aware of the correlation between vaccine administration and the formation of these tumours. It appears that the Feline Leukemia vaccine is most often the culprit when it comes to the formation of these tumours. Feline vaccine-associated sarcoma can be found in both genders, in all breeds including mixed breeds, and in both young and older cats.

  2. 2

    Treatment begins with obtaining a diagnosis. In most cases, the owner will feel a hardened area on the cat's neck or withers and will present the cat to a veterinarian. In most cases, a needle aspirate procedure is performed in which a needle is inserted into the tumour in an attempt to harvest some cells for examination. In other cases, a biopsy is performed that involves removing a portion of the tumour surgically for evaluation. Pathology is performed to determine the nature of the tumour. If confirmation is made, the veterinarian will follow up with a series of x-rays to determine whether the cancer has spread to other organ systems and blood work will be performed to assess the overall health of the cat in question.

  3. 3

    Surgical removal of the tumour is generally indicated for tumours that are small to medium-sized. Wide margins are observed by taking additional tissue from around the tumour to ensure that all of the cancerous cells are removed. In cases where the veterinary practice is technologically advanced, the surgical procedure may be guided with a CAT scan or MRI to ensure that all of the affected tissue is removed.

  4. 4

    Radiation therapy is generally recommended as a follow-up, which involves exposing the area around the tumour to high doses of irradiation in hopes of destroying any remaining cancerous tissue. However, in many cases, either the practicing veterinarian does not have access to radiation equipment or the treatments are prohibitively expensive to be a real treatment option.

  5. 5

    Follow up with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is another highly recommended treatment protocol, but for the same reasons as radiation therapy, it is not used in many cases. Cats with small to medium sized tumours that are fully excised have a good prognosis for recovery. Those that are treated with chemotherapy after excision have an even better chance at making a full recovery.

  6. 6

    Have the tumour excised again if it recurs. Larger tumours that cannot be excised due to the amount of tissue that is involved must be treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy before it can be removed. Because of the nature of the cancer to invade other structures surrounding it, the larger the tumour becomes, the less likely it is that clean margins will be achieved during surgical removal and the more likely it is to recur after surgery. The prognosis for recovery in cats with large tumours is poor.

Tips and warnings

  • Keeping you cat healthy is important as generally healthy cats have a better prognosis for beating this cancer. Feed your cat a high-quality cat food and take him to the vet regularly. Also, ask your veterinarian to start giving your cat his vaccines in his hips instead of between his shoulders. In the event he develops a vaccine related sarcoma, he stands a better chance of recovery if the leg is completely removed.

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