A liver cancer diagnosis, or even a suspicion of liver cancer, can be a scary time for any pet owner. While your veterinarian is gathering information, your mind may be racing through “what’s next?” and “how long will my cat live?”
Fortunately, while liver cancer in cats is a serious disease, it’s not always a death sentence. In fact, some liver tumors are benign masses that can be cured with surgery. A thorough diagnostic workup will allow your veterinarian to determine the cause and recommended treatment of feline liver cancer.
Quick Overview: Feline Liver Cancer
What is feline liver cancer?
The term “liver cancer” (or hepatoma) refers to any tumor in the liver. These lumps can occur in the liver tissue itself, in the gallbladder, or in the bile ducts. Regardless of location, all liver tumors interfere with the normal function of the liver, leading to clinical symptoms of liver failure.
Liver cancer is classified according to two criteria: its distribution and origin.
A solitary A liver mass is a single, discrete tumor that can be removed surgically. Nodular Liver cancer consists of multiple small nodules distributed throughout the liver.
diffusion Liver cancer affects liver tissue broadly rather than being confined to discrete nodules or masses. Solitary masses can sometimes be removed with surgery, whereas nodular or diffuse liver cancers are more difficult to treat.
Liver cancer can develop in two ways.Some liver tumors, called primary liver tumor, directly from liver tissue.other liver tumors, called metastatic liver Tumor, which spreads from a malignant tumor that originated elsewhere in the body. Primary liver tumors are usually easier to manage and treat than metastatic liver tumors.
Causes of Liver Cancer
Primary liver tumors arise directly from liver tissue. The most common primary liver tumor in cats is bile duct adenoma (also known as bile duct cystadenoma). This benign growth originates from the bile ducts.
Fortunately, these bile duct adenomas are usually completely curable with surgical removal. Other less common feline primary liver tumors include cholangiocarcinoma, hepatocellular carcinoma, myelolipoma, fibrosarcoma, angiosarcoma, and carcinoid. These tumors are usually not curable with surgery and have a poorer prognosis than biliary adenomas.
More commonly, feline liver tumors are metastatic liver tumors. These tumors have spread, or metastasized, from another area of the body.
In cats, common sites of metastases include the bowel, spleen, and pancreas; malignancies that develop at these sites often spread to the liver if not diagnosed and treated early. Metastatic tumors that may affect the liver including the liver are also frequently involved in feline lymphoma, a widespread metastatic cancer that can affect organs throughout the body.
Liver Cancer Symptoms
Cats with liver cancer can show clinical signs of a variety of diseases. Some cats are completely asymptomatic and their liver cancer is discovered incidentally while being checked for another disease.
For example, an apparently healthy cat may undergo routine dental cleanings, and the veterinarian may notice severe elevations in liver enzymes on preanesthesia blood tests.
Elevations in these liver enzymes may indicate the presence of liver disease, and further investigation may lead to a diagnosis of liver cancer, even in cats with no signs of disease.
Some cats with hepatocellular carcinoma show clinical signs of overt liver dysfunction, which can range from mild to severe.
Signs of liver disease in cats include decreased appetite, weight loss, and vomiting. Affected cats may also have increased thirst and urination. In severe cases, a cat’s skin, eyes, and gums may turn yellow (called jaundice or jaundice).
Neurologic signs such as stumbling, disorientation, and seizures may also be observed. If the liver tumor ruptures and bleeds in the abdomen, the cat may become extremely weak or collapsed, with pale gums due to blood loss.
Diagnosis of Liver Cancer in Felines
Clinical symptoms of liver cancer are often indistinguishable from other liver diseases such as liver infections, inflammatory hepatitis, and gallbladder disease. Therefore, your veterinarian will need to perform a thorough diagnostic workup to determine the cause of your cat’s liver dysfunction.
The first step in addressing underlying liver disease is a thorough physical examination.
Your veterinarian will perform a complete examination of your cat from head to tail, including abdominal palpation. If your cat has a large, solitary liver tumor, your veterinarian may feel the mass in the abdomen. Your veterinarian will also carefully examine your cat for signs of jaundice, as well as other signs of liver disease or other diseases.
Blood tests will also be done, including a complete blood count and serum chemistry.
Elevated liver enzymes, including alkaline phosphatase (ALP), alanine transferase (ALT), aspartame aminotransferase (AST), and gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), in cats, usually with liver disease initial symptoms. Depending on the underlying disease, other blood test abnormalities may also be observed.
If laboratory tests indicate that your cat has liver disease, the next step is usually imaging.
Abdominal radiographs (x-rays) are often used as the first step in evaluating a cat’s liver. X-rays allow your veterinarian to see the size of your cat’s liver, as well as to look for large or obvious tumors.
Abdominal ultrasound can also be used to provide further imaging of the liver, as it provides a three-dimensional view of the liver’s internal structures. Ultrasound may also be used to locate small lumps and look for stones in the gallbladder and bile ducts.
When a liver tumor is suspected on ultrasonography, a more specific diagnosis is usually required.
Depending on the mass and how accessible it is, your veterinarian may recommend a fine needle aspiration (removing a small number of liver cells using a fine needle), a needle biopsy (removing a small piece of tissue using a fine, large-bore needle), or the liver or its Surgical biopsy (surgically removing a larger piece of liver tissue) of an adjacent lymph node.
Each of these tests is designed to remove a small sample of cells or tissue from a suspected liver mass. These cells are examined by a pathologist using a microscope to make a definitive diagnosis.
An accurate diagnosis is needed to understand the cat’s prognosis (expected outcome) and to determine the best course of treatment.
Feline Liver Cancer Treatment
Treatment for liver cancer depends largely on the type of tumor present.
For solitary primary liver tumors, the best treatment is surgery. The veterinarian will make an incision in your pet’s abdomen (belly) to allow access to the liver.
The mass is then excised from healthy liver tissue. Liver defects in cats will be closed with sutures or surgical staples. The incision in the cat’s body wall will also be closed with sutures or staples.
Your veterinarian may recommend chemotherapy if the removed tumor is of the chemotherapy-sensitive type.
If your cat’s liver cancer has metastasized elsewhere, treatment will depend on the specific type of metastatic tumor.
Surgery is usually not recommended for tumors that have metastasized, but chemotherapy and/or radiation may be beneficial. A veterinary oncologist will help you determine the best treatment for your cat.
Liver cancer is a serious disease in cats. Feline liver cancer has many possible causes, making obtaining an accurate diagnosis critical to understanding your cat’s prognosis and determining an appropriate treatment plan.
Work with your veterinarian to determine which tests and procedures are necessary to diagnose the cause of your cat’s liver cancer in order to develop the most effective treatment plan possible.
frequently asked questions
How long can a cat live with liver cancer?
The prognosis for feline liver cancer depends on the type of cancer. Some metastatic liver cancers can significantly shorten your pet’s lifespan, while primary liver tumors such as cystadenoma of the bile ducts are usually benign and can be cured with surgery.
Is liver cancer common in cats?
Primary liver cancer is uncommon in cats, accounting for less than 5% of all feline cancers. Tumors elsewhere in the body may metastasize to the liver; although these tumors are more common than primary liver tumors, they are still relatively uncommon.
Are cats in pain from liver failure?
Cats with liver cancer may exhibit a variety of clinical symptoms. While some cats with liver cancer are completely asymptomatic, others show signs of severe disease. Liver cancer is known to be painful for humans, so it’s reasonable to assume that cats might be suffering too.
What should cats with liver failure eat?
Cats with liver failure often benefit from a prescription diet specially formulated for patients with reduced liver function. These foods typically have antioxidants (to reduce liver inflammation), high-quality protein, high-quality fat, and highly digestible carbohydrates.
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