Keep An Eye Out: Three Common Equine Cancers

Though cancer is less common in horses than in humans, it’s still possible for equines to develop various forms of the deadly disease. Because horses are so large, it can be difficult to actually locate the cancer that is affecting the horse. The most obvious signs of equine cancer are typically scaly areas of hair loss, growing and changing lumps, and swollen lymph nodes, but cancer can also take on other forms.

At its most basic, cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. The three main types of cancer found in horses include:

  • Melanomas. Melanoma is the type of cancer most people visualize when they think of cancer in horses. This cancer causes skin tumors; it’s estimated that nearly 80 percent of grey horses over the age of 12 will develop melanomas around the tail, perineum, sheath, eyelids or mouth. Once found, melanomas should be removed when they’re still small; this is often done by laser surgery.
  • Sarcoids. Although a benign cancer, sarcoids can spread rapidly. There are various different forms of this cancer, each with a characteristic appearance. To add to the trickiness of the disease, individual sarcoids can change forms. Though the growth rate and number of tumors per horse can vary, the tumors tend to grow in size and multiply over time.
    Sarcoids can be found nearly anywhere on the horse, but the location of some tumors make them more-difficult to treat. Treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Sarcoids should be treated early; the bigger the sarcoids become, the harder they are to treat. Once a horse has developed a sarcoid, it is prone to developing more, even if they are removed.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Squamous Cell Carcinoma generally affects horse’s eyes, eyelids and penis. Though slow growing, this cancer is invasive and can spread internally. Treatment generally includes surgery, radiation or chemotherapy; early diagnosis and treatment is key. Older geldings are more prone to the penile form of this cancer; regular sheath inspection can help locate lesions before they become extensive.

Read more at Horse & Hound.

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