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It has long been known that some more superficial tumors can be treated by freezing the cells and killing them, a process called cryotherapy. Much like your dermatologist would freeze a wart, cryotherapy utilizes an application of liquid nitrogen to the mass to kill the cells. The masses we treat with this therapy include small hemangiomas, hemangiosarcomas and mast cell tumors. When dogs and cats spend a lot of time in the sun, they can get a form of skin cancer that shows up as small, superficial lesions that look like little blood blisters. Initially these tumors are benign (hemangiomas) but with time can progress to the malignant form (hemangiosarcoma). This cancer is most often seen in our thin-skinned dogs with Whippets, Italian Greyhounds and Greyhounds being the most often seen. Superficial mast cell tumors are most common in cats. This process generally requires anesthesia in our pets but occasionally if just one or two lesions are being treated, a local anesthetic can be used to numb the area before the treatment. The mass is typically frozen three times with a couple of minutes in between each application. Many masses can be treated during the same anesthesia event.
Side effects are usually very minimal but may include some hair loss at the site and over the 2 weeks following the treatment, a scab will form. People treated with cryotherapy tell us that for a few days after treatment, the area will be a bit tender, but our dogs and cats seem to tolerate this very well. When the scab falls off naturally over the next week, a small, hairless area is left behind. These masses are usually very responsive and are often gone before the scab comes off. This therapy only addresses the masses that are treated and does not do anything to prevent other masses from growing. Because of this and the fact that the damage from the sun occurred in the past, new masses will continue to grow and will require treatment. The frequency varies but for some pets, two treatments per year is not unusual. In most cases, if we continue to treat the lesions when they are small, we can keep the disease located in the superficial layers of the skin and prevent it from spreading and becoming a life-threatening condition. If your pet has masses or lesions on the skin, have your veterinarian take a look so your friend can stay healthy and happy!