We see dogs with lumps and bumps on a daily basis. Some of them are not a problem and don’t need removing, while others will require surgery or other treatment to treat them effectively.

Before we can plan the removal of a lump, we need to be able to answer two questions – what is it, and where is it.

  1. What is it?

Not all lumps are created equal. Some lumps are malignant (the true “cancerous” lumps), while others are benign. Malignant lumps have the potential to spread and invade into tissues around the lump, while benign lumps tend to be minimally invasive and don’t spread, though they can cause problems in other ways such as getting very big.

When we first see a dig with a lump, we will feel it. We will feel how clearly defined the edges are, where its location is, and what its texture is like. We will then take a sample with a needle, called a fine needle aspirate, which will help confirm what type of cells are present. Depending on the lump type, we may be able to get a clear answer from this or we may need to take a bigger sample called a biopsy.

Once we know what type of lump it is we can determine whether further investigation or treatment is required. In many cases, we are able to safely leave the lump alone as it’s unlikely to cause the dog any trouble. When we confirm it is a type of lump which needs further treatment, we then move on to the next question.

  1. Where is it?

This question really has two parts. Where is the lump located on the dog, and has it spread to other parts of the body?

The location on the dog is important as it determines how easy it is to remove the lump. A skin lump on the side of the chest is generally much easier to remove than one on the leg as we have more “spare skin” on the chest to close the surgery site. Some tumours also behave differently in different locations. For example, melanomas on the hairy parts of the body are generally benign and don’t need treatment, while melanomas in the mouth can be very aggressive.

We also need to determine if the lump has spread to other parts of the body. Certain cancer types have a tendency to spread to particular parts of the body. When we know what type of cancer it is, we know where it may spread to. By checking in those areas for evidence of spread (this process is called “staging”) we can determine if surgery will be curative and in the animals best interest. After all, we don’t want to put the dog through a big surgery if it’s not going to improve its quality of life.

What next?

Once we know what it is and where it is, we can determine the best treatment plan. If we determine the lump is benign and not likely to cause the dog problems, we will normally recommend monitoring by the owner. If we feel the lump requires removal, we can then plan the appropriate surgery to make sure we do “the right amount of surgery”.

For benign lumps, we generally need to remove the lump as far as we can feel. Figure 1 shows the surgical margins in red if a lump is benign. If the lump is malignant, it may have cells spreading out into surrounding tissues beyond what we can feel. Figure 2 shows the surgical margins we would require to ensure we didn’t leave any cancer cells behind. This is normally between 1cm and 3cm depending on the tumour type.

Figure 1

Figure 2

When I talk about “the right amount of surgery”, I mean we need to ensure we remove all the cancer cells without removing more healthy tissue than needed. There’s not much benefit to doing the surgery if we leave cancer cells behind as the lump will come back, and we don’t want to take away too much healthy tissue as this will cause excessive pain to the dog and can affect their quality of life after the surgery. By knowing what we are dealing with before we do the surgery, we can ensure we take just the right amount of tissue.

The location of the lump will affect our surgical treatment when we need to consider how to “close” the wound after surgery. If you feel the skin over your dog’s chest, you’ll notice it can move around quite a lot and would be relatively easy to remove some skin and still have enough to suture the edges back together. Now as a comparison, feel the skin on your dog’s leg. There’s not a lot of spare skin, and closing wounds in this location takes a lot of planning and some challenging techniques such as skin flaps.

So, how much does it cost to remove a lump

As you can see, it’s not a simple question. For a benign lump, the answer may be “nothing, you don’t need to remove it”. For the very difficult lump removals, the total could reach as high as $3000. The important thing is to make sure we do it right the first time, and what we do must be in the dog’s best interest. Quality of life must always be our focus for any lump or cancer treatment.

Dr Braden has completed courses through Sydney University on Medical Oncology, and Small Animal Surgery. He is passionate about treating lumps, bumps, and cancers in dogs and cats. Appointments can be made with Dr Braden by calling the Eaton Vet Clinic on 97250399, or by booking online HERE.