A Different Animal: Cancer in Pets and People

Vet examining cat

Cancer can strike every organ in the body, and each different type of cancer carries a different prognosis and requires a different treatment. That’s because, although we tend to lump all cancers into the same basket, each one is a separate disease. That is true when we look at cancers within the same species (such as all human cancers or all canine or feline cancers) or when we start comparing the same kind of cancer across species (such as skin cancer in humans and canines). In this article, we take a brief look at how cancers that are important in people usually manifest differently in our pets.

The Human Side

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a group that tracks cancer diagnoses and outcomes among humans, the top five cancers in people are breast cancer in women; prostate cancer in men; and then lung, colorectal and skin cancer in both genders. That probably doesn’t surprise you, since your doctor is likely always talking to you about various screening tests, such as the mammogram or colonoscopy, or about the risks of cigarette smoking or not wearing sunscreen. Organizations like the NCI record and publish information about human cancer rates in the United States to help assess the impact of new treatments and prevention strategies.

No PSAs for Persians

There is no national organization that tallies the occurrence of cancer in pets like the NCI does for humans, but veterinarians know that the top cancers you should worry about in your pet are very different from those you should worry about for yourself. You won’t hear me recommending, for example, a screening colonoscopy for your Curly-Coated Retriever or a PSA (prostate specific antigen) test for your Persian. That’s because colorectal and prostate cancers are very uncommon in pets. Since pets don’t smoke, lung cancer is also uncommon. But there are other cancers that are common in both pets and people. Let’s take a look at the top four among those that we veterinary oncologists worry about.


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