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Basal Cell Tumor in Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

The most commonly diagnosed tumors in cats are those affecting the skin or just beneath the skin. Basal cell tumors in cats fall into this category. Learn how these tumors are diagnosed and treated.

What are basal cell tumors in cats?

Basal cells in cats are cells from the sweat glands, sebaceous glands, or hair follicles. They create the basal layer of the epidermis (the skin's outer layer). When a cat experiences uncontrolled division of these cells, an abnormal growth or mass called a basal cell tumor develops. 

The basal layer of the skin is, essentially, the defensive layer of the epidermis. It contains many types of cells, including those involved with inflammation. 

Most of the tumors that our Englewood vets diagnose are classified as basal cell tumors. Basal cell carcinoma is a type of cancerous (malignant) basal cell tumor. Fortunately, a small number 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. Others are genetic or hereditary. Some breeds of cats are also more likely to develop cancers compared to some others. Himalayan, Persian, and Siamese cats are the cat breeds most commonly affected. 

How are basal cell tumors in cats diagnosed?

Your vet may first assess your cat's symptoms by conducting a physical examination. They will check for signs of a basal cell tumor or basal cell carcinomas, which can 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 to 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

Once your vet determines a mass is likely a tumor, they will typically perform fine-needle aspiration (FNA). The process of FNA allows your vet to retrieve a cell sample from the mass to examine under a microscope.

Occasionally the results from this procedure will be inconclusive or require the vet to perform a more thorough procedure for diagnostics. In these cases, your Englewood vet will perform a biopsy. The examination of a sample for biopsy is commonly referred to as histopathology and can help the vet determine the outcome 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 help reduce the risk of secondary complications. This is especially true if the tumor is cystic or ulcerate, since this may cause infections. While rare, there is a small chance that the tumor could recur at the surgical site but the chance of this is low.

If your cat is experiencing a small tumor, your primary vet may also recommend cryosurgery, which uses liquid nitrogen spray to freeze the tumor.

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.

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

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VRCC Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Hospital in Englewood is always accepting new patients! Our board-certified specialists and emergency veterinarians are passionate about restoring good health to Denver Metro area pets.

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