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Q: My almost 9 year old female cat was just diagnosed with sarcoma on her hind left leg. What are the treatments? Is she too old for them? And life span with it?

A:         A sarcoma is a malignant tumor that arises from one of the connective tissues of the body. They are very locally invasive tumors which makes them difficult to eliminate completely. They can also occasionally spread to other parts of the body, but this tends to be less of a problem.

The first step is to evaluate your cat’s overall health and check to see if there has been any detectable spread of the tumor. This entails doing lab tests, x-rays of her chest to evaluate the lungs, and an abdominal ultrasound to evaluate her internal organs. If there are no other underlying medical conditions and no evidence of spread, then she is a good candidate to consider pursuing some form of treatment. Cats can live a long time and 9 years of age is considered middle-age for cats.

As for treatment options, there are generally only three major options for most types of cancer: surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The treatment of choice for sarcomas is surgery to remove the tumor. The difficulty arises from the fact that the mass is always more invasive than it appears to be. Therefore, a wide margin of normal appearing tissue always needs to be removed around the tumor to try to maximize the chances of removing all of the cells. This can be difficult when the tumor is on the leg, and sometimes amputation is necessary. If tumor cells are left behind after surgery, then the tumor will almost always grow back at the same site. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are sometimes also indicated following surgery, but this is determined based on all of the findings for each individual case.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict life span without more information such as grading of the tumor, can it be completely removed, and has it spread. Consultation with a veterinary oncologist would likely be very helpful for you to start being able to answer some of these questions. Good luck with this very difficult situation.

Stephen Brenn, DVM, Diplomate, ACVIM (Oncology)

Dr. Brenn received his DVM degree from the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University. He then completed an internship at the New Haven Central Hospital for Veterinary Medicine and remained in Connecticut to live and practice general medicine. He completed a three year residency in oncology at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Brenn enjoys music, sports, and spending time with his two sons.