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Basal Cell Tumor in Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

The skin or subcutaneous tumors are the most commonly diagnosed tumors in cats. Basal cell tumors in cats are one of them. In this blog post, our veterinarians in Turlock discuss the diagnosis and treatment of these tumors.

What are basal cell tumors in cats?

Basal cells in cats are a type of cells found in the sweat glands, sebaceous glands, or hair follicles that form the basal layer of the skin's outermost layer called the epidermis. When basal cells divide uncontrollably, it results in an abnormal growth or mass known as a basal cell tumor. The basal layer of the skin is a crucial layer that contains various cells involved in inflammation and provides a defensive barrier. 

Most of the tumors diagnosed by our veterinary experts across the site are classified as basal cell tumors. Basal cell carcinoma is a form of malignant basal cell tumor, but fortunately, only a small percentage of basal cell tumors are cancerous.

What causes basal cell tumors in cats?

While there is not a definitive, proven cause for the development of tumors or cancer in any cat or pet, various factors can contribute to the disease. Common risk factors include environmental triggers, genetic predisposition, or hereditary factors. Some breeds of cats are also more likely to develop cancers compared to others. Himalayan, Persian, and Siamese cats are the cat breeds most commonly affected. 

How are basal cell tumors in cats diagnosed?

Your veterinarian may begin by evaluating your cat's symptoms via a physical examination. They will look for signs of basal cell tumors or carcinomas, which may present differently.

Basal Cell Tumors

Common in older cats, basal cell tumors can develop almost anywhere on the body. They have a few typical characteristics in their appearance, including:

  • A hairless, firm, raised mass
  • The mass may vary in size from less than one centimeter to more than four inches in diameter
  • Often dark in color
  • Cysts may form

Basal Cell Carcinomas

  • Malignant tumors that develop most frequently in older cats 
  • Often appear as ulcers on the head, neck, or legs
  • Not usually raised up from the skin
  • Spread to form new ulcers on neighboring skin, but rarely to other organs

When your veterinarian suspects a mass is a tumor, they usually perform a fine-needle aspiration (FNA). This process enables them to obtain a cell sample from the mass, which can be examined under a microscope.

In some cases, the FNA results may not provide enough information, and a more comprehensive diagnostic procedure may be required. In such instances, your local veterinarian will perform a biopsy.

The examination of a biopsy sample is commonly referred to as histopathology, and it can help the veterinarian determine the nature of the tumor.

How do basal cell tumors usually progress? 

While basal cell tumors are most often benign and will not spread (metastasize) to surrounding tissues or internal organs, when they do keep growing, there is an increased risk for ulcerations, infections, and complications with removal. Though metastasis is rare, it is more common in cats than in dogs. The prognosis for most cats is excellent if the tumor is removed. 

What are the treatment options for basal cell tumors in cats?

If your cat has been diagnosed with basal cell tumors or basal cell carcinomas, your vet will likely recommend surgery to reduce the risk of secondary complications. This is particularly important if the tumor is cystic or ulcerated, as it may cause infections.

While it is rare, there is a small possibility that the tumor could recur at the surgical site, but the likelihood of this happening is low.

If your cat has a small tumor, your primary vet may also suggest cryosurgery, which involves freezing the tumor with liquid nitrogen spray.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have a lump on or under your cat's skin that you're concerned about? Contact our Turlock veterinarians today to book an exam for your feline friend. 

New Patients Welcome

Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Turlock companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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