Treatment and Prevention of Skin Cancer in White Cats

Lili Duda, VMD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

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Question
I am a cat lover and owner of two geriatric cats. I have a question about how to prevent and treat skin cancer for a white kitty.

Can you help us to help our feline friends?


Answer
Lili Duda, VMD, Section Editor of the OncoLink Veterinary Oncology Menu, responds:

Skin cancer in white cats is due to excessive sun exposure (just like in people). This is because white cats lack the protective pigment that other cats have. Skin cancer (typically squamous cell carcinoma) most frequently occurs on the tips of the ears, sparsely haired areas around the ear base and eyelids, and the tip of the nose. Unlike intraoral squamous cell carcinomas in cats, cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas tend to behave more benignly in that they are slowly progressive and unlikely to spread elsewhere until late in the course of the disease. Initially the lesions can appear as small scabby or crusty areas resembling a scratch or pimple.

They may respond to antibiotics and anti-inflammatories (because skin tumors frequently have secondary infection and inflammation), and can wax and wane. However, untreated skin cancer will continue to progress over time. The lesions can become large, invasive, ulcerated and erosive. Treatment consists of complete surgical removal when possible. If not possible, radiation therapy and photodynamic therapy have been used successfully. The smaller the tumor the more likely it is to respond to treatment. Once a cat has developed one skin cancer, it is more likely to develop additional skin cancers within the areas that are at risk. The only preventative measure is to keep the cat out of direct sun, particularly during the peak sun hours (typically 10 AM to 2 PM). Sun block is not effective due to cats' meticulous grooming habits.