This month, October, is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Signified by the color pink, the event serves as a reminder to women to be aware of the possibility of breast cancer and encourages human females to have a breast examination and mammogram performed regularly. A worthy cause, to be sure.
But did you know that cats can get breast cancer too? Yes, that’s right. Veterinarians typically refer to the condition as mammary cancer rather than breast cancer. However, the condition is the same: a tumor in the mammary (or breast) tissue.
Now, being a male cat, breast cancer (or mammary tumors, if you prefer) are not much of a concern for me. For my female feline friends though, it is a major concern. In fact, it is the third most common type of cancer seen in cats. 90% of breast tumors in cats are malignant, or cancerous.
Mammary cancer in cats also has a tendency to spread to other parts of the body, commonly referred to as metastasis. This form of cancer is typically very aggressive.
Unlike in women however, we have the ability to almost completely remove the risk of mammary cancer in our cats. Cat owners can protect their female cats from this type of cancer fairly effectively by spaying their cats at a young age. Cats spayed before they reach 6 months of age have a 91% lower risk of developing breast cancer than an unaltered cat. Cats spayed before one year of age have an 86% lower risk. However, cats spayed between one year and two years of age are only 11% less likely to get mammary cancer. And if spayed after two years of age, the incidence is the same as that of an unaltered cat. (That does not mean that there are not other benefits to spaying a cat that is over two years of age though!)
Needless to say, spaying your female cat at a young age is the best protection against breast cancer. Of course, there are other benefits to spaying at a young age also. Spaying before the first heat cycle occurs saves you, the cat owner, from having to endure the annoyance of having a female cat in heat in your home. (For those of you who have never experienced living with a cat in heat, it’s not a pleasant experience!) In addition, there is no risk of an unwanted pregnancy, no risk of a complicated or difficult birthing, and the risk of pyometra (a severe uterine infection) disappears completely also.