CAT scan for kitty?
February 18, 2011 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Cat is getting an X-Ray tomorrow in search of a tumor. Is this the correct procedure? If you went through cancer with your cat please find more info inside...

My 7 year-old has lost 2.5 lbs in the past 2 years (he was at 15lbs), and has been regurgitating dry food kibble (6 times over the past month). We got the blood panel and urinalysis done and all checked out okay except calcium level is slightly elevated to 12.6. Vet says this could indicate a tumor and wants to do X-Rays. I thought CT scans were supposed to find tumors.... and do these symptoms really sound like cat cancer?
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Trust your vet. Tumors can do all sorts of things, like blocking the esophagus or pressing on the stomach, for example.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:11 PM on February 18, 2011

Cancer is a generic term. There are cancers that are detectable via regular x-rays, via CT scan, and via physical inspection. I lost a cat to liver cancer a few years ago, and the lump was feel-able without any need for further testing, but that also meant the cancer was so far gone it was really too late for any treatment. The symptoms for your cat seem plausible.

Right now my living cat is in radioactive quarantine having just been treated for hyperthyroidism which was discovered through similar symptoms, though less puking for my cat, for which my carpet is I'm sure grateful.
posted by nomisxid at 12:12 PM on February 18, 2011

Which vet, your RDVM or a specialist? If you don't trust your rdvm, ask for a referral to an internal medicine specialist. They will do all the requisite tests and refer you to an oncologist if they think that it is cancer.

As for which scans to do, let the experts decide which scans to use and don't play armchair doctor.
posted by TheBones at 12:12 PM on February 18, 2011

When TheBestDogInTheWorld and the AuxiliaryDog were suspected of having cancer, our vet used x-rays to locate the tumors. They showed up very clearly even though they weren't detectible with palpitation. When my friend's cat got visible lump at an injection site, her vet used xrays to help determine what the margins were for surgery.

I'm likely to be proved wrong, but I thought vets reserved CT scans for when they suspect cancer in thick bone (like the skull).
posted by jamaro at 12:14 PM on February 18, 2011

Those symptoms could mean a lot of things. It could be a bacterial infection in the intestines; it could be a number of things.

There are lots of ways to check for abnormalities. X-rays check for bone cancer and lung cancer, and some others, I think. One common way is a sonogram, for growths or abnormalities in the liver (benign, like cysts, or otherwise) or other organs.

Also, a cat throwing up six times in a month is not really an indicator of anything. God bless the little pukers.

Important questions:

Does the cat have an elevated white blood count?

Does the cat have diarrhea?

Does your cat go outside?
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:16 PM on February 18, 2011

Radiographs (x-rays) can indicate some types of abnormal growths and other problems. They are also much cheaper than a CT. IANAV, but recommending snapping a few radiographs to look for pathological changes is pretty standard.

CTs are basically just a series of super-awesome radiographs reconstructed in three dimensions by a computer.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 12:19 PM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make sure your vet is experienced and thorough - one of my cats died after a new vet completely missed a stomach tumor on an x-ray (thought the cat was just constipated!). He felt very bad about it when he found it in the autopsy and the older more experienced vet said he should have noticed it and there would have been far more treatment options.
posted by meepmeow at 12:22 PM on February 18, 2011

My cat had an x-ray as an initial step to determine if she had cancer.

She was also losing weight and throwing up a lot and it turned out that, rather than cancer, she had food allergies. It might be worthwhile to ask your vet about the possibility of allergies and switching your cat to hypoallergenic food. (I have no idea, though, if elevated calcium levels make a food allergy more or less likely as a cause of your cat's symptoms.)

I hope you find the answer soon and it's something easy to treat.
posted by zahava at 12:56 PM on February 18, 2011

My first cat was a rescue who was about 6 or 7, who threw up regularly, and he had pancreatic cancer. It was very advanced by the time the ER vet caught it (my regular vet missed it through blood work and X-rays). It took the ER vet doing an ultrasound to see the tumor, and I wish I'd done that so much earlier when he was having symptoms. I would have spared him so many unnecessary procedures. My regular vet was going under the assumption that he had IBD and treated him with steroids which masked the symptoms of the cancer.

If nothing turns up on the X-ray, and he's still vomiting regularly, an ultrasound might be an avenue for you.

The weight loss can be "wasting," which is a symptom of cancer, but my cat lost nearly half his body weight in seven months. Your cat's weight loss is much more gradual, but I think it's good that you're taking this seriously. Weight loss and vomiting are pretty standard symptoms for cats, so take my cat's outcome with a grain of salt.
posted by gladly at 1:04 PM on February 18, 2011

I think vets generally start with X-rays because they're much cheaper and may result in a clear diagnosis, thus saving the patient's human boatloads of money. If nothing shows up on the X-ray, then the CT scan might be indicated if symptoms don't clear up.

But talk with your vet about why he or she makes this choice.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:10 PM on February 18, 2011

My cat had an x-ray as the first step in detecting his tumors as well. The reasoning was as stated by some people above, that it's the initial step because it's much cheaper than a CT scan and can show abnormalities pretty easily in something as small as a 7 pound cat. My cat also lost weight and started vomiting and the x-ray and bloodwork were the first step. They found tumors, and confirmed the cancer with a needle biopsy.
posted by bedhead at 2:26 PM on February 18, 2011

Our cat had an x ray as one of her first tests when ill and it discovered a tumor. The next step would have been biopsy. Based on the size and location we did not do the biopsy.

I think the xray is where they start as it is cheaper and more easily available than other tests. My regular vet could have done the xray but were booked so even though we were at a specialists they started there too.
posted by oneear at 5:37 PM on February 18, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I lost one of my cats unexpectedly, due to mesenteric lymphoma. His weight loss was slow and progressive (he lost almost half his body weight over the course of three years), and previous x-rays and an intestinal biopsy had not revealed the cancer. He was diagnosed with IBS and placed on a sensitive stomach/GI diet.

There are not usually palpable tumors with this form of lymphoma, but the lymph nodes become hypertrophic and lymphocytes proliferate. This is a kind of cancer that initially might only be found on a CT scan, and it's said to account for about one-third of feline cancer. He also showed no other signs of being ill and was bounding around and chipper up until a few days before I lost him.

So, even if a tumor doesn't show up on an x-ray or scan, you might want to bring this up with your vet. I wish you and your kitty the best.
posted by iconoclast at 1:21 PM on February 19, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the good info. Kitty's x-rays came back clean, though he is still vomiting. Iconoclast, did your kitty get bloodwork done? Was there anything there that might have pointed to lymphoma?
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 4:17 PM on February 20, 2011

He had bloodwork done six months prior to his death, and everything looked normal then (no elevated calcium). His white blood cell count was not elevated, but I imagine it would have been (and containing abnormal lymphocytes) towards the end. He'd had a dental cleaning at that time, and even though I was worried about him undergoing anesthesia, he did just fine. The only abnormal lab result was a low urine specific gravity - which is typically associated with renal disease. However, later I read that a low or high specific gravity can also occur with lymphoma.

Of these symptoms of alimentary lymphoma, he had the first and last the two, although he didn't actually vomit that much. And I've also read that neither may happen with any frequency, so it can be pretty hard to pin down.

* Diarrhea
* Excessive thirst
* Excessive urination
* Lethargy
* Loss of appetite
* Nausea and vomiting
* Weight loss

I didn't mean to alarm you, but I was shocked to lose my beloved kitty as I thought he had at least another few years in him. It seems like regular health panels of blood and urine tests (every 6 months or whatever your vet recommends), would be the best way to monitor him. If your cat got an abnormal urine specific gravity result and kidney disease was ruled out, that might be a clue - and if a complete blood count revealed a high white blood cell count.
posted by iconoclast at 5:42 PM on February 24, 2011

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