As soon as you feel a lump on your dog, note the size and location. Your veterinarian will want to know when the lump first appeared and if it is growing or changing.
It’s important to schedule an appointment to have your dog examined by the veterinarian, especially if the new lump or bump is growing rapidly, changing in color or texture, bleeding, uncomfortable or irritating. Your veterinarian will complete a full physical examination, examine the lump in question, and ensure there are no additional lumps or abnormalities that require investigation. Many lumps quickly are determined to be no problem, such as warts, skin tags and minor insect bites; others require more investigation to be identified.
The first test to evaluate any lump or bump found on, within, or underneath the skin, is called fine needle aspirate (FNA). For this procedure, the veterinarian will insert a needle into the lump and collect cells which are then deposited onto a slide. The cells are spread in a thin, even layer across the slide and stained for visibility under the microscope. Many primary care veterinarians can examine these slides right in the clinic. However, most tumors require the expertise of a board-certified pathologist for proper identification. It will take several days for the laboratory to process and examine the slides and get the pathologist’s interpretation back to your veterinarian.
Once your veterinarian reviews the cytology report, they can make further recommendations. For some bumps, watchful waiting might be indicated (an example would be a small, benign fatty mass) but in other cases surgery may be suggested for removal and better identification. Many benign lumps, such as lipomas, can grow quite large and may interfere with your dog’s limb movement or contribute to skin problems such as dermatitis in skin folds at the tumor’s edge. Regular follow-up with your veterinarian is needed to monitor growth or changes in a benign lump and decide when surgery is best. Dermal mass maps are a great tool to help you track your dog’s lumps and bumps.
If a pathologist identifies malignant or abnormal cells in an FNA sample, surgery usually is recommended to remove the cancer. Your veterinarian may require or recommend additional tests before surgery to assess if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body – a process known as staging. After surgical removal, the tumor tissue will be fixed in formalin and cut into many thin slices that can be stained and examined under the microscope. This requires the expertise of a veterinary pathologist who will identify and evaluate the tumor cells for characteristics of malignancy and determine if cancerous cells extend close to or beyond the edge of the tissue submitted. Based on these biopsy results, you and your veterinarian will decide upon the best treatment plan for your pet.
Obtaining samples and accurate diagnoses of malignant cancers is a critical component of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. If an FNA or examination suggests malignancy, communication with the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study team is required before a biopsy is performed. If you or your veterinarian have questions about study expectations, you might find the biopsy decision-making tree a helpful tool. However, don’t hesitate to contact our study team if you have any questions.
Biopsy results, which are donated by our Platinum Partner Antech Diagnostics, provide valuable information about the study dog’s health. Participating veterinarians can now view, download and even electronically share results with their clients. By comparing each dog’s lifestyle, exposures and genetic make-up to the number and types of tumors they develop, we hope to uncover risk factors for canine cancer and take another step toward better prevention and longer lives for our best friends.