Humans aren’t the only species to develop breast cancer. During October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is important to check your dog for this invasive disease that may occur in females of all kinds. Dogs have 10 sets of mammary glands starting high up in the chest with the final pair in the inguinal area (groin). To check, gently feel each gland with your finger tips, searching for nodules, thickening or abnormal textures. Pay special attention to the area under each nipple as I find many tumors in this area. They often feel like BB’s or peas, usually firm to the touch.
Breast cancer in dogs includes firbroadenomas, mixed mammary gland tumors, adenocarcinomas and inflammatory carncinomas. These inflammatory carncinomas are especially aggressive. They often rupture right through the skin leaving a nasty, infected wound. Most of the owners notice the blood and think their dog was bitten. It is not until I palpate that we discover the true cause. Thank goodness, only a small percentage of the tumors I see are of this type.
To prevent breast cancer in dogs, I recommend spaying them before their first heat cycle (if there is no history of vaginitis). Every heat cycle increases the chances of cancer because the tumor cells have progesterone and estrogen receptors on them. One cycle increases the risk a little, but after that the odds go up quickly. My professors taught me in school that twenty five percent of dogs that have had more than one heat cycle will get cancer. It’s important to consider this fact when deciding to breed a female.
The good news is that fifty percent of breast cancers in dogs are benign. This is much better than cats who suffer with a ninety percent malignancy rate. Early detection and removal is the best treatment, just like in humans. So let’s use October to spread the word about breast cancer in all species. Check, check and check again. Early treatment for all of us is the key!