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diagnosis Physical exam findings and clinical signs hint at melanoma, but to confirm a definitive diagnosis, your veterinarian must perform a biopsy and send a sample of the mass to a pathologist for review. Radiographs may be pursued prior to surgery for melanomas of the toe. Because they’re likely to cause destruction of the underlying bones, an X-ray makes it easier to diagnose an aggressive tumor versus something less sinister like a swollen toe. Melanomas in the mouth or on the toe are almost always malignant, so once a diagnosis is confirmed, your veterinarian needs to stage the cancer. Staging helps determine whether the cancer is contained to one location. Blood work, samples of local lymph nodes and radiographs of the chest will look for evidence that the cancer has spread. case study chai 12-year-old pitbull terrier condition: melanoma treatment: surgery, melanoma vaccine, radiation, diet change, supplements Chai has beaten the odds all her life. Once the plucky runt of a 15-pup litter found in a garbage can, she’s now (according to mom Vassilisa) a full-blown “force of nature.” But Vassilisa feared the worst when she noticed a gray lump growing on Chai’s gums and the vet confirmed a melanoma diagnosis. “I was terrified, heartbroken, and I couldn’t believe cancer — one of the most aggressive forms — had come for Chai,” she recalls. Miraculously, after 29 separate vet visits, Chai has outlived the 3–6 month melanoma prognosis and is still going strong over a year later. “I am very aware that without Petplan, Chai would not be here today,” says Vassilisa. treatment Treatment always starts with local tumor control. This means surgical excision with wide margins for all masses. For melanomas of the skin, surgery is generally curative, as most skin lesions are benign. When melanoma of the toe is suspected, the affected toe is amputated and sent to the pathologist. Because melanomas are highly invasive locally, the wide margins needed to remove all of the cancer cells usually means that some or all of the jaw will need to be amputated in the case of oral melanoma. Radiation can be considered prior to surgery if a mass is too large to remove, or it can be employed post-operatively if cancer cells remain. Pets can undergo chemotherapy, but because melanomas are extremely chemoresistant, it is not thought to significantly change the outcome of the disease. fun in the sun issue 27


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