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Dr. Z.
Dr. Z., Veterinarian
Category: Dog Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 113
Experience:  Small animal veterinarian for two years. Practice surgery, medicine and emergency medicine daily.
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My dog has a lump on his side

Customer Question

my dog has a lump on his side ..what are the signs that it could be cancer?
Submitted: 9 years ago.
Category: Dog Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Z. replied 9 years ago.


How old is your dog? What breed is he? Is he neutered?

Can you describe the lump? Size, on top of the skin or underneath the skin, soft or hard, shape...

Is your dog having any other problems, such as coughing, vomiting/diarrhea, sneezing, lethargy, inappetance, etc?

Thank you!!

Customer: replied 9 years ago.
Reply to Dr. Z's Post: Hi there,My Gizz is a Old English sheep/terrier dog...thats what the vet here told me...I think he looks like a Bearded Collie..He is 7 years old ..I had him since he was 6 weeks old.He has all his shots ..but is not fixed ,I was hoping to find a girl dog like him to have little Gizz's ..The lump is small ...maybe little smaller than a 25 cent piece,,it feels soft ...and it is under the skin on his side..I have rubbed it and it don't seem to bother him..He has a healthy coughs etc...but he does get the runs if the kids sneek him table foods...He is my sunshine I am hoping to rule out cancer!

Thanks Kim
Expert:  Dr. Z. replied 9 years ago.

Hi, and thanks for the reply!

Sounds like you've got a great dog. The signs of cancer vary widely, from no physical signs, to coughing, lethargy, inappetance, difficulty breathing/defecating/urinating, all depends on what type of tumor and where it's located.

The one and only way to find out if a mass is cancer or not is to have it examined by a vet. It is impossible to tell whether something is benign just by looking, feeling, or measuring the size. We can get a better idea of what something could be by what it looks like, but we never know for sure until we either do something called a fine needle aspirate or a biopsy. A fine needle aspirate is just a fancy term for getting a sample of the cells from inside the lump using a needle and syringe. Those cells are then put onto a microscope slide and stained with special stain, then examined by your vet to see if their are any suspicious looking cells. Certain types of tumors have very characteristic looking cells.

The good news is that just because it is a lump does not mean it is cancer. There are lumps called 'lipomas' that are just benign fatty masses. The only types of cells inside those are fat cells which look very oily on a microscope slide and usually do not stain at all. If your vet is unsure about it or gets suspicious cells, they most likely will then recommend to have the mass removed and sent off to a histopathologist, a professional who looks at cells on slides and tumor samples as their job to decide what type of tumor and whether benign or malignant. Benign means that the tumor does not spread to other parts of the body (benign doesn't imply that a lump doesn't grow larger), and malignant means that the tumor spreads to other organs and areas of the body such as lungs, liver, bone marrow, etc.

If it's a benign lipoma, there's no need to remove the mass unless it grows to such a size that it obstructs a dog's ability to walk. I assisted in a surgery once to remove a 7lb lipoma (totally benign) from a Labrador's side that was inhibiting the dog's ability to use its front right leg to walk. The dog did fine afterwards.

I'd definitely take Gizz to your vet soon just to have it aspirated. You will feel much better if you find out that it's nothing to worry about, and you'll also feel much better that if it is something to worry about, you've caught it early rather than waited and waited. The worst thing that anyone can do when it comes to a lump is to assume that it's benign just because of how it looks or feels...again, that information can give us an idea, but does not in any way replace aspiration or biopsy to find out what the lump really is.

Please let me know if you have more questions or if you want to discuss something in further detail, or if something I've said doesn't make sense. I'm more than happy to help you as much as you need it. Best wishes to you and Gizz!! Please keep me posted on how he's doing!

Customer: replied 9 years ago.

I looked at the info that you had sent me was very good advice but what I don't understand is that when you had said that they will check the lump using a needle and checking for cells vet said that they don't do that and they would have to do surgery to check it!!!I am so scared of loosing him!!!They can't get him in until next Saturday this is info over the phone ...why would they do surgery if it might not be necessary???

Thanks Kim

Expert:  Dr. Z. replied 9 years ago.

Hi Kim!

I'm so sorry that what I've said and what they've said are two different things. I honestly do not know why they are refusing to do a needle aspirate on the lump and are just wanting to jump to surgery.

Before I answer, I'll ask if your vet was talking about full surgical removal of the lump, or were they talking about a biopsy (taking just a small piece of the mass)? Did they mention if they would put your dog under general anesthesia or just sedation?

If they were talking about full surgical removal of the lump under anesthesia, here is my answer:

During my time as a student in vet school, I spent a three week block of time doing nothing but oncology -- in other words, we saw lots of dogs and cats every day that had lumps and tumors everywhere, outside and inside. After performing a basic physical exam on them, our very next step was to perform a needle aspirate on each and every lump we could find on their body. One dog I saw had nearly 25 lumps and I had to aspirate each and every lump, put each sample onto a slide, stain the slide, examine it under a microscope, and list the findings in the record. This was only one year ago so it is not old-fashioned. Our clinicians (board certified veterinary oncologists) told us that there were no lumps that should not be aspirated, and also told us that you never remove a lump without knowing what it is first. If this even is a tumor (which we don't know for sure yet), there are different types of tumors which must be addressed in a very specific manner to be correctly removed surgically. In other words, a mast cell tumor and a fibrosarcoma should be approached in different ways -- certain tumors must be removed with a 2 cm margin all the way around, others are different. Again, there were absolutely no tumors that our clinicians instructed us to 'just remove'.

I completely understand how difficult of a situation this is for you. Your vet who you know and can talk to in person is telling you one thing, and I am telling you another over the internet. And you are just concerned about your wonderful dog and want to do the right thing. My suggestion would be to call another vet in your area (or two or three) and speak with them about your situation. If they won't talk to you, they are not worth trusting your dog's care with. You have a right to ask them about whether or not they would perform a needle aspirate or biopsy before surgical removal. You also have a right to ask your own vet to specifically tell you why they won't do this.

Please let me know if you find out exactly what your vet is planning -- biopsy vs surgery, anesthesia vs sedation. My answer above is based on if they are wanting to fully remove the lump without knowing what it is first.

I'm so sorry, again, that you have to live with such a fear of losing your beautiful dog. Please consider calling other vets in your area to at least speak to them about what they would do for your dog, and if they could do it sooner, too. I'm here for you, too. I'll help you as much as I possibly can! I completely understand and can sympathize with the fear you're feeling right now. Don't give up up hope, and don't settle for anything or anyone that doesn't make you feel confident and comfortable about what's being done for your dog, Gizz. Please keep me updated. I'll be standing by to hear from you!