Small lumps and bumps found on your pet may seem insignificant, and sometimes they are, but in many cases they can become quite large and troublesome. We often are asked the question, if it’s just small, why would we need to biopsy (sample) or remove it?
Some lumps are totally benign. Examples of benign masses are cysts or warts that remain only a few millimeters or a centimeter and never become a problem. We don’t need to worry about them spreading to other areas of the body. Some of these lumps on certain breeds, like Cocker Spaniels or Poodles have a distinctive appearance and we can be confident enough based on their appearance to tell pet owners that they are very unlikely to ever be an issue.
Then there are the benign lumps that don’t necessarily pose a health risk as far as spread to distant areas of the body, but can become quite large and cumbersome over time. A few examples would be lipomas (fatty masses) or soft tissue sarcomas. These can start out just a few centimeters but grow to 15cm or larger. If they are found in areas like a leg or near the face they can interfere with vision or movement.
The lumps that are the most concerning are ones that grow quickly, bleed, are irritating for the pet or appear in an unwell animal.
So why would we want to sample a mass first? Why not just take it off? It all boils down to knowing what we are dealing with before surgery. Some masses can be removed easily with small “margins.” This means that we only need to take a half centimeter of normal looking skin around the mass to remove the whole thing and our pets go home with small incisions. Some other masses however, like soft tissue sarcomas require several centimeters of “normal” looking tissue to prevent them from coming back. This can be a problem if it’s a large mass in an area where there is not a lot of extra normal skin, like the face or a paw. In these cases sometimes follow up treatments like radiation therapy are required to get rid of the little bits of mass that didn’t get removed at surgery.
The bottom line is that small lumps are much more easily removed. Smaller lumps require a smaller incision which means an easier recovery from surgery for our patients. We also have more anesthetic concerns in older patients. The 2cm mass in a 5 year old dog is a lot less risky to remove than the now 12 cm bleeding mass in a 13 year old dog that has to be removed because it’s getting in the way. Just some food for thought!
And speaking of food...my dinner is calling. I'll try to make my next post a more festive one!
Happy Holidays friends!!