Nose Cancer in Cats

Charlotte Hacker, PhD
By Charlotte Hacker, PhD. Reviewed by Rhiannon Koehler, DVM on Feb. 22, 2024
A vet holds a cat during an examination.

In This Article

Summary

What Is Nose Cancer in Cats?

Nose cancer in cats is a condition in which abnormal cells grow into a malignant (cancerous) tumor within a cat’s nasal cavity. Nasal tumors make up 1% to 8.4% of tumors in cats. In a study of 123 nasal cavity tumors 92% were malignant.

Tumors in cat noses are often advanced by the time they are diagnosed because they usually aren’t visible externally until they’re quite large. Nasal tumors typically do not spread to other parts of the body (metastasize) but are known to grow into the surrounding bone and tissue, including the brain.

The life expectancy of a cat with nose cancer depends on the tumor type, size, and location. While treatment can result in a full recovery, recurrence rates are high. Cats who don’t receive treatment are unlikely to live longer than a few months after diagnosis.

Types of Nose Cancer in Cats

Several types of nose cancer in cats are based on the kind of cell they originate from.

  • Lymphoma originates from white blood cells and is the most common type of nasal cancer. In a study of 65 cats with nasal tumors, 44.6% were lymphomas.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) originates from the lining, or squamous epithelium, of the nasal cavity. This cancer is typically slow-growing but can invade nearby tissues.

  • Fibrosarcoma is rare and develops from connective tissue. It typically begins in one side of the nasal passage and slowly grows to the other.

  • Chondrosarcoma is rare and arises from cartilage cells. It often begins on one side of the nasal passage and aggressively invades neighboring areas.

Additional types of cancer that can affect the nose in cats include:

  • Melanoma

  • Hemangiosarcoma

  • Plasmacytoma

  • Basal cell carcinoma

  • Osteosarcoma

  • Adenocarcinoma

Symptoms of Nose Cancer in Cats

Symptoms of nose cancer in cats can include:

Causes of Nose Cancer in Cats

The risk of nose cancer in cats is likely influenced by many factors, including environmental exposure and genetic predisposition.

Cats exposed to cigarette smoke, air pollution in urban areas, and indoor pollutants such as cleaning chemicals, dust, or mold spores may be more at risk.

Certain viruses, such as a feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), or a compromised immune system may also contribute to nose cancer.

Males are more likely than females to develop nose cancer, as are older cats.

Some cancers on the outside hairless area of the nose, such as squamous cell carcinoma, are linked to sun exposure.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Nose Cancer in Cats

To diagnose nose cancer in cats, your veterinarian will start with a physical exam to check for things like facial symmetry and nasal airflow. They’ll collect information to rule out other causes of your cat’s nasal tumor, such as a fungal infection. Blood work and a urinalysis may be ordered.

Your cat’s vet may use a microscopic camera to investigate the nasal cavity, a procedure called rhinoscopy.

Imaging such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be done to investigate the tumor’s location and size.

Beyond X-rays, more advanced imaging diagnostics may be available only at a specialty clinic or university.

Your vet may collect cells from the tumor itself via a nasal flush or fine needle aspirate (FNA). FNA uses a small needle to suction up cells from the tumor, which are then viewed under a microscope. FNA may also be done on the lymph nodes to test whether the cancer has spread.

A biopsy, which involves removing a piece of the tumor to view it under a microscope, may be necessary if a definitive diagnosis cannot otherwise be made.

Be sure that your cat’s vet has access to medical records, especially if your cat has a history of tumors, nasal-related issues, or viruses.

It can also be helpful to write down your cat’s symptoms as you notice them, so that you don’t forget anything relevant to the diagnosis process.

Treatment of Nose Cancer in Cats

Treatment for nose cancer in cats depend on the type of nasal tumor and are tailored to each cat.

Radiation therapy is standard for treating nose cancer in cats because nasal tumors typically remain in one localized area. This treatment can target and destroy cancer cells while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues. Cats who complete radiation therapy may have survival times around a year.

Chemotherapy may be recommended if the cancer has spread.  Although cats with nasal lymphoma who don’t receive chemotherapy have an expected survival time of about a month, chemotherapy may triple this survival time to three months.

However, all cancer cases are unique, and a combination of treatment may be advised depending on your cat’s needs.

Surgery is not common because nasal tumors are in a sensitive area of the body, often in advanced stages when diagnosed, and difficult to remove. However, surgical removal may be possible for small external tumors affecting the skin of the nose.

When treatment is not an option, palliative care (relief of symptoms) may be suggested to keep your cat comfortable. This may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory and pain medication (such as NSAIDs like piroxicam)

  • Nutritional support, such as appetite stimulants or diets designed for oncology patients

Life expectancy for untreated nasal cancer varies, but survival times are likely limited to a few months. In one retrospective study, cats with nasal lymphoma left untreated lived an average of 28 days post-diagnosis.

Recovery and Management of Nose Cancer in Cats

The downside of many treatments for nose cancer in cats is their side effects.

With radiation, these may include hair loss, irritation of the eyes, and inflammation within the mouth or nose. These can be treated with medication if necessary.

Some types of radiation, like stereotactic radiation (SRS/SRT), are known to have fewer side effects and faster recovery times.

Chemotherapy often comes with side effects such as nausea and vomiting. These can become severe depending on the dosage and type of drug used. Medication may be prescribed to offset these symptoms.

Cats who have surgery may experience nasal discharge and swelling, which will go away after several weeks.

Following treatment, your vet will give you aftercare instructions and a list of items your cat will need. Some items may include:

Additionally, several important things can help your cat with their recovery:

  • Encourage your cat to eat and follow their vet’s dietary recommendations.

  • Keep your cat indoors and secluded in a clean, small, quiet space with fresh water, food, and a litter box nearby.

  • Monitor for increased nasal discharge or swelling that may indicate infection.

  • Nasal cancer often recurs even when a positive outcome is initially achieved with treatment. Therefore, monitor your cat closely and be sure to keep all follow-up veterinary appointments.

  • Call your cat’s veterinarian if you notice anything abnormal.

Prevention of Nose Cancer in Cats

Though not entirely clear, associations between nose cancer and FeLV, tobacco smoke, pollution, and dust suggest that reducing your cat’s exposure to environmental toxins and FeLV may help lower their risk of the disease.

Consider getting your cat vaccinated against FeLV, a vaccination recommended for all cats under one year of age and then annually, depending on a cat’s individual risk.

Regular vet exams can aid in the early detection of abnormal growths, ultimately leading to improved treatment outcomes.

Nose Cancer in Cats FAQs

If a nasal tumor is untreated, what is a cat’s life expectancy?

The lifespan without treatment depends on the type of nasal cancer and the stage of the cancer (how far it has progressed or spread) at the time of diagnosis.

Cats with untreated nasal cancer will likely live only a few months, particularly if the tumor is within the nose rather than on the external skin.

References

Brooks W. Nasal Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Cats. Veterinary Partner. August 2023.

Caring for a Pet with Cancer. Merck Veterinary Manual. November 2022.

Specific Prevention and Screening for Cancer. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

References


Charlotte Hacker, PhD

WRITTEN BY

Charlotte Hacker, PhD

Freelance Writer


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