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Ferrets And Sarcomas

What is the best treatment for a ferret with sarcoma cancer?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: March 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EST

Q: Our ferret Alpine (an albino) has had several surgeries for lumps on his back. The first lump was not considered dangerous, the second and third were considered sarcoma and had to be removed. They were biopsied by a specialist in California who stated for the first sarcoma that she could not find any cancer cells in the tumor (which was removed in October 2010). In December 2010 we noticed another lump that had to be removed. The specialist told our vet that it was indeed a sarcoma and that they would have to do more testing on the lump to see what was going on. She did mention that there are no “margins” to be able to get all the bad cells out of the area of the lump.
 
We received a call today stating that she was going to speak with other vets to see if they have had any experience dealing with this and finding out about the cells in the system, because, which she also stated to us, this is not widely known in ferrets (this sarcoma), but more common in dogs and cats. She has to find out what tests they need to do next, to see if it is worth doing more tests on the cells.
 
Because she stated that this is an uncommon kind in ferrets, we are very concerned and were hoping that you might have some more knowledge or information that we can go by. Alpine turned 4 in February, and we are not sure what to do next.
 
Is it also advisable to do radiation or chemo on a ferret? He has healed from every surgery great, he has a lot of energy and he acts and looks good. His only bad point is he is on Lupron for adrenal gland disease and takes enalapril for his heart (which the cardiologist stated to me back in October that his heart is almost completely healed).
 
Please if there is any information or advice you can give us we would appreciate it. We love him a lot and want to do what is best for him.
 
A: Consider yourself very fortunate to have a veterinarian who has persisted very hard to get you the best answers. Your ferret is very lucky to be in the care of this doctor. And your ferret is fortunate to be with you in that you did not stop at the first biopsy.

We like to think a diagnosis is always black or white, sick or healthy, cancer or not. Unfortunately this is not always the case. There are many shades of gray; and sometimes when you catch a disease very early, the disease has not developed enough to be defined with certainty, hence the need for further biopsies at times.

In general, cancer can be identified as being in one of two general categories, depending on the type of cell the cancer is derived from. Sarcoma cancers derive from connective or supportive tissues. Carcinoma cancers derive from epithelial cells and can be of glandular origin.

Your ferret has a sarcoma-type of cancer. There are many types of sarcoma cancer; some common sarcoma cancers include fibrosarcoma, lymphosarcoma, osteosarcoma and liposarcoma. It is impossible to recommend the best treatment — surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy — without knowing more about the particular type of sarcoma present in your ferret.

To make the best choice for your ferret, the following information must be known: the type of sarcoma, the grade of sarcoma (if appropriate for that cancer), whether the sarcoma has spread, whether it is possible to get clean margins and the general health of your ferret. You reported that this is an unusual sarcoma for a ferret, so your veterinarian might need to continue to discuss the case with colleagues to get you the best answer to your questions.

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