Squamous Cell Carcinoma
September 2022

I recently saw this “while you are here can you check this abscess” cow. Unfortunately, this case was more severe than an abscess and was in fact a vulval mass extending into the vaginal and rectal wall.

In all aspects it resembles a type of tumour called a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). This is a malignant tumour of skin cells which can rapidly spread to nearby organs. Secondary bacterial infections often develop which can complicate things even further. This girl was in calf but had to be euthanised due to the extent of growth and blockage of the vaginal and rectal canal. 

Interestingly this type of tumour presents more commonly around the eye which many of you might recognise as a “cancer eye”. The peak age of onset for these is 8 years old and most commonly develop on white faced animals with sunlight being one of the main driving forces around the development of these tumours. They have a special affection for developing on the 3rd eyelid and can occasionally grow from the eyeball itself leading to blindness.

Cancer often doesn’t need a reason to develop but these tumours more commonly grow due to a few causes:

  • Heritability – risk factors are heritable
  • Sunlight
  • High plane of nutrition
  • Eyelid pigmentation – white faced cows
  • Possible viral involvement

They typically start as benign white plaques but can progress to ulceration or a malignant stage in which it can spread to the entire orbit of the eye, large portions of the face and distant organs at which point it is untreatable. 

Cows cannot be transported with a cancer eye tumour that fits any of these criteria:

  • Tumour is over 2cm in diameter
  • It is bleeding or discharging
  • Is not confined to either the tissues of the eye or eyelid

Treatment requires removing the tumour entirely if it is possible to get good margins – it is often a quick fix and depending on the location of the tumour usually involves removing the 3rd eyelid or in some cases the whole eye. Surgical treatment doesn’t always result in a cure, there is a chance of recurrence but the sooner we can get to them the less likely this will happen. We have the potential to remove these tumours before they spread so it is vital to routinely check eyes. Give us a call early so we can help you preserve your animals value and well-being.