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Studying Oral Cancer In Cats

SCVSEC Participates In Key Research Effort

A man walked into a local clinic one afternoon with a beautiful white cat with a green eye and a blue eye. Her name was Flake, as in snowflake. The cat had been having trouble eating. That’s when her owner took a close look at her and noticed an odd pink growth along the right side of the cat’s mouth. One informed look told the veterinarian that Flake suffered squamous cell carcinoma. In plain words, “mouth cancer.”

Carcinoma, a type of tissue cancer, metastasizes quickly through the body, often with fatal results. Of the various cancerous oral growths affecting cats, squamous cell carcinoma is the most common. Such tumors grow rapidly, often invading neighboring bone and tissue. That was the case with Flake, a green-eyed, blue-eyed beauty. Sadly, the outcome was not in doubt. One of the heartbreaking tasks a veterinarian faces is telling a family that a beloved pet has a fatal disease. Flake had to be euthanized.

How much happier it would have been to tell Flake’s owner that veterinary science is on track to catching feline oral cancer in its early stages when treatment options are best. Without doubt, the surest path to enhanced pet health is knowledge, and scientific research best paves that path. Because feline oral cancer disease stubbornly resists traditional therapy, researchers seek new and better ways to detect and treat this cancer. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is conducting a feline oral cancer study and we’ve been invited to participate in the research. Pre-empting diseases is a major part of our profession and we’re eager to work with the university. Here’s a look inside the research with technical talk kept to a minimum.

The Promise Of Biomarkers

Clinical advances help identify cancer in people at an early stage, leading to further treatment options, better survival, and a better quality of life. Biomarkers are one such area where the attainment of advances is promising. Because biomarkers in biological fluids and tumor tissue run higher in people with oral cancer, they may make early cancer detection possible. Since feline oral cancer is very similar to oral cancer in people these same biomarkers might exist in cancer-stricken cats. If so, they could serve as a minimally invasive and potentially inexpensive detection tool. The University of Illinois U-C study seeks to determine if biomarkers relevant for human oral cancer can be detected in cats with oral cancer. Future evaluation of biomarkers may help to determine prognosis, gauge therapy effectiveness, and provide targeted therapy opportunities. The ultimate goal is a better and longer life for our beloved cats.

Sadly, feline cancer often is identified late in the game. At that stage, effective treatment is limited and outcomes are generally unhappy events. The use of biomarkers, however, holds the potential to write a happier ending and SCVSEC is fortunate to be a part of this effort. Let’s hope that science and research fulfill the promise of biomarkers.

Someday future Flakes may have their cancer detected early enough that we can better treat it assuring cats a longer, better life. Stay tuned for later developments.


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South Carolina Veterinary Specialists & Emergency Care


3924 Fernandina Road Columbia, SC 29210

Hospital Hours

Emergency: 24 hours
Specialty Departments: Monday-Friday: 8 am - 6 pm
Urgent Care: 1:00 PM - 11:00 PM, 7 days a week (conveniently located in the same building as our ER)