(NOTE: If you found this post because you are searching for more information regarding Mast Cell Tumors, I also suggest that you check out my three part series: Mysteries of the Mast Cell Tumor.)
I just learned a very important lesson, the hard way, that I feel should be shared with ALL dog owners. Any lump, bump, mass, or swelling on your dog should be looked at by a vet as soon as possible, even if you feel it is nothing to worry about….and even if they have had benign lumps in the past.
When we adopted Meadow, she came with a harmless looking lump on her belly, and a few months later, a small lump appeared on her hindquarters. We brought her in to the vet to get them looked at and he aspirated the one on her hindquarters and did a skin scraping on the one on her belly because she had some hair loss in the area. The aspiration came back that the lump was most likely an allergic reaction, probably from her vaccines. The skin scraping came back negative, and our vet felt that the small hard lump on her belly was a surface abrasion of some sort.
Then, in early August, Meadow developed a strange, strawberry looking growth on her ear. Back to the vet, and we were told it was a hystiocytoma, which would most likely dry up and fall off on its own – which it did, just a few weeks later. Interestingly, I went back through her records from when she was first rescued, and she also had a growth on her nose removed and biopsied back then, which had turned out to be another benign hystiocytoma.
Simultaneously, our vet was watching two lumps on Toby. My lumpy Lab had already had several aspirated in the past, some turned out to be cysts, some lipomas. When two more squishy lumps popped up on him, the vet said to just watch them, and aspirate them if they grow. Leah also sports a quarter sized lump on her torso, which my vet believes is a cyst. It has remained the same size and consistency for at least two years now…
So, when Meadow developed a new lump on her leg sometime in either August or September, (we can’t really remember when), we let it go for a while, deciding to just let the vet look at it during her next visit. After all, all three of our dogs had had lumps looked at, and each had consistently been benign. Additionally, the new lump was similar in appearance and feel to the one our vet had previously aspirated on Meadow’s hindquarter, so we weren’t all that concerned – especially when the lump went away.
But then it came back – same spot, same size, same shape. I told Nick, “We’ll have it looked at when Meadow goes in for her check up in March.” But then, when it went away again, we put it out of our minds.
When it came back yet again, we were even less concerned. After all, cancer doesn’t go away. Does it?
I briefly looked it up online, and the first article I came across said lumps sometimes hide behind muscles, sort of slipping in and out again. I discussed it with Nick and we wondered if that was what was happening with Meadow’s lump, rather than it actually going away like we initially thought. Thinking it was a little bizarre, but still unconcerned since it had remained roughly the same size, (when it was visible), I decided to bring Meadow in with Toby when he went for his annual exam in November, rather than waiting until March…
Not long before their appointment, Nick found a new, tiny, very hard, odd shaped lump in Toby’s leg, and I added it to the ever growing list of things to have looked at. But then, just three days before the dogs’ joint appointment, I found another, HUGE lump in Toby’s chest. It cropped up out of nowhere and was the size of a golf ball! Worried about Toby, I started reading up on lumps on the internet while waiting for their appointment, and that is when I learned that mast cell tumors often shrink, grow, and shrink again. I also learned that the mast cell tumor is called “the great imitator” because it can look like any type of benign (and sometimes not so benign) lump a dog can get.
At that moment, I realized my mistake. I was worried about the wrong dog.
When we brought the dogs in and described the nature of Meadow’s lump to the vet, he too was suspicious. He was also suspicious of the little lump in Toby’s leg. He aspirated all three new lumps, but only obtained clear fluid from the golf ball sized one on Toby’s chest, which he felt meant it is most likely another lipoma.
But from each of the dog’s leg lumps, the needle pulled blood.
Concerned, our vet sent both samples out to the lab for a cytology report, and told us he’d call on Thursday with the results. When he called on Tuesday night instead, I knew something must be wrong. Toby’s lump turned out to be just another cyst in his ever growing collection, but Meadow’s ‘disappearing’ lump was indeed a mast cell tumor. Then the vet told me Meadow needs surgery to remove the lump – so it can be biopsied to see what stage cancer it is – and that he now wants to biopsy the benign looking one on her belly, just to be safe.
I was shocked. How can a four-and-a-half year old dog get cancer?
While waiting to take Meadow in for her pre-op blood-work and consult, I went over every inch of her, and discovered two more, smaller lumps.
I showed them to the vet during Meadow’s appointment yesterday morning, and while he feels that one of them is probably just a cyst, (it is hard and about the size of a deer tick), the other may be an issue. Although it is much smaller than the original mast cell tumor, it is similar in feel, and is located not too far away on the same leg. Rather than aspirate it, my vet is going to remove all four lumps and send at least three of them out to be biopsied when he performs her surgery, which is scheduled for December 1st.
Completely paranoid now, I checked her over again last night, and this time I discovered a little bump on her lip, smaller than an eraser head, and that is when I also remembered the grain sized hard lump that Meadow has had inside her ear flap from when we adopted her. Nick and I have been watching it for the past year and a half, and it has never changed, but of course, I’m worried about it now too, and will be bringing both of these bumps to my vet’s attention.
Please keep Miss Meadow in your thoughts. The best case scenario would be that she has a stage 1 mast cell tumor with clean margins (which generally don’t metastasize) and a bunch of benign lumps and bumps. And since Meadow does have a history of benign lumps, I am trying hard to remain hopeful that the cancer has not spread.
I am also trying very hard not to blame myself for not bringing her in to the vet sooner.
It appears I’m not the only one to have made this grave mistake. Now that I’ve been reading up on and talking to everyone I know about mast cell tumors, I’ve discovered other owners who have mistaken mast cell tumors for benign things, and still others whose dogs have had multiple lipomas (like Toby) but had a new lump turn out to be a tumor. So, please take this important message to heart, and check your dog regularly for new lumps and bumps. And if you find one, even if your dog has a history of benign growths, please get it checked by a vet…
Even if you think it is nothing…
…Cancer can look like anything.