A FEW months ago I met the most lovely cat and his delightful owners. His name was Nuuk (of Greenland origin, I was informed).

Mr and Mrs Scott had recently moved to Dunedin Vets’ Tranent surgery. Nuuk was a gorgeous, big, ginger and white cat who adored attention.

Recently the Scotts noticed a lump which appeared on Nuuk’s back between his shoulder blades.

It was not painful for him and he was living a happy life as he always had done. However, as the mass was slowly growing the owners sought veterinary advice.

Whenever we see a patient with an unknown lump, it is usual to take a fine needle aspirate. This is the simplest approach in many cases.

A small sample of cells are removed from the lump with a syringe and needle. It does not require general anaesthesia or surgery.

Microscopic examination of the cells obtained is called cytology. This gives a us a reasonable idea of what type of lump we are dealing with.

It could be an abscess, a foreign body reaction or a tumour. Many tumours are benign and are often lipomas, (a fat cell growth). However some of these aspirates give cause for concern when we identify cells which may be cancerous.

As with human patients, this is not the nicest of subjects to discuss but cancers are all too common in our beloved pets. We see animals every day in veterinary practice, which have lumps and swellings in any part of the body.

Cancer is a disorder of cell growth (uncontrolled cell division) that results in an abnormal mass of tissue without a purpose. The growth exceeds that of normal tissue, is unco-ordinated and persists after the cause has gone. There are many different types of cancer.

When the sample was taken from Nuuk, it was discovered that he had malignant cells present.

The place and type of cancer which Nuuk had developed is something we see in veterinary practice from time to time. It was a fibrosarcoma, which can occur where cats have had injections in the past and the feline leukaemia virus vaccine has been implicated.

We see very few of these cases, compared to the number of cats which have been saved by vaccinating against feline leukaemia virus.

Once it had been established that Nuuk had a malignant cancer, the next consideration was how best to treat it. As individual situations and responses vary, and because cancers often behave unpredictably, science can only give us a guide.

However knowledge, understanding and treatment of tumours in animals is improving all the time. The main concern in deciding upon a course of treatment should be what is best for the quality of life of the pet.

Sometimes, because of the type of cancer or its stage of progress, cure is unlikely. However for these cases treatment may help alleviate symptoms, such as pain, and greatly improve the quality of the pet’s remaining life. This is called palliative treatment.

For sarcomas like Nuuks, a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy could be considered. Radiotherapy would have to be performed at the Vet School in Edinburgh, a world-renowned institute in the treatment of animal cancers. However this requires the patient to have an anaesthetic daily for a few weeks to administer the treatment.

After much discussion, we decided that we would perform radical surgery to remove the lump with a wide margin of healthy tissue around and below, in the hope that it could be completely removed before it started to spread.

Nuuk came for his operation and the mass and a large area around was removed and the wound sutured closed. Samples were sent to a laboratory to check if all had been removed. The news was good.

Nuuk had to be kept rested and restricted during the healing process. No chemotherapy nor radiotherapy was given to Nuuk.

Mr and Mrs Scott were pleased with the surgery and Mrs Scott wrote the following words and sent the lovely photos of Nuuk and his brother Nansen:

As soon as the lump was diagnosed there was no question that surgery had to take place. We are very grateful that you cleared your diary so that the surgery could take place just four days after you first met Nuuk. The picture of Nuuk tucking into some food was taken on the day he came home (just a few days after the operation) – he did not lose his appetite, although we have noticed a change in the foods that he likes.

He was an absolute star throughout the entire process. He adapted to being ‘house-bound’ and to using a litter tray without any issue whatsoever (something he has not done since he was a kitten, and very occasional trips to the cattery).

Nuuk was calm and the perfect patient, in many ways – his appetite was good, he allowed us to apply ointment to help heal the wound and also to clean it, he did not try to claw or over-lick his stitches (in the main) and he tolerated being kept indoors for three weeks post-op.

He was absolutely delighted to have access to the outside world again a few weeks after the operation. His fur has all grown back in and he allows his brother to clean him (including the area where the lump was).

We attribute a great deal of his excellent recovery from surgery to the treatment he received (from start to finish) at Dunedin. I was concerned that our little cat would be timid and frightened as an outcome of the experience of surgery and boarding overnight at an unfamiliar place. Quite the opposite.

He left the practice purring and every time we brought him back for check ups and stitches removal, he took it in his stride.

We are immensely grateful for the wonderful treatment Nuuk has received from all of the staff at Dunedin, and especially yourself in the delicate surgery you performed.

We are several months after his surgery and Nuuk is living a perfectly normal life.

He is monitored regularly for any recurrence but so far so good. Like me, he is a cancer survivor!

It really makes my job so rewarding when I feel I have been able to help give an animal have an extended happy life.