Greta is an approximately 12 year old, spayed female, Cocker Spaniel that was presented to us for an oral mass. During her veterinary appointment, it was noted that a very large, irregular, red to black mass was originating from the corner of Greta's left lower gums. The mass was making it hard for Greta to eat and keep her mouth closed. Dr. Price recommended further diagnostics and removing the bulk of the mass. Greta's Pre-Surgical blood work and chest radiographs were all within normal limits which made her a good surgical candidate. This lead Dr. Price to move forward with surgical removal of the mass. After removal of the mass, microscope evaluation (pictured below) of the mass revealed cancerous cells, and some cells that contained dark pigmentation indicative of Malignant Melanoma.
Oral malignant melanoma is an abnormal growth of cells called Melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells in the skin that produce pigment, typically black in color. Melanoma is the most common oral tumor in dogs and are very aggressive. The reason why a particular pet may develop this, or any tumor or cancer, is not straightforward. Most seem to be caused by a complex mix of risk factors, some environmental and some genetic or hereditary.
Lesions may appear as thickened and pigmented nodules, arising from any location within the mouth. These tumors may look small from the outside but extend deeper into the tissues than expected, invading the underlying bone. Signs may include bad breath, drooling, panting, movement or loss of teeth, lack of appetite or difficulty eating, reluctance to be touched on the head, and facial swelling.
Oral melanomas are locally aggressive, meaning they will invade the closely associated tissues and structures. Staging ( searching for potential spread to other location sin the body) is highly recommended. This may include bloodwork, urinalysis, x-rays of the lungs, and possibly an abdominal ultrasound. Catching this type of tumor early is always beneficial from both a management and treatment standpoint. If any abnormality is observed in your dog's mouth, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian to determine an appropriate course of action.
Dr. Price and the rest of the staff at the clinic are happy to announce that the surgery to remove the tumor went well. Greta is now able to eat and drink better. She is recovering and doing well at home at this time.