Unlike melanoma on the skin, oral melanoma is characteristically a highly aggressive cancer that is almost never benign in dogs. Melanoma is the most common oral tumor found in dogs, with nearly 50,000 dogs diagnosed annually. In the mouth, the most common site for canine malignant melanoma (CMM) is the gums. Other likely sites in order of decreasing frequency include: lips, tongue, hard palate, and tonsils.
Some breeds, such as German Shepherds and Boxers, are predisposed to developing CMM. Additionally, Irish Setters, Chihuahuas, Golden Retrievers, and Cocker Spaniels are at greater risk for developing melanoma on their lips.
Oral melanoma demands swift and early response in order to increase the rate of successful treatment. Knowing the causes, signs, and treatment is an excellent first step against oral melanoma.
Melanin-producing cells, or melanocyte cells, in the skin produce the dark pigmentation generally associated with melanoma of any kind. Though oral melanoma is almost always malignant, it does not always cause pigmentation.
CMM is not caused by ultraviolet light as in people (melanoma is most commonly known as a malignant skin cancer in humans), but by a combination of genes and environmental factors. Abnormal, erratic growth of melanin-producing cells, melanocytes, in genetically predisposed dogs is a major contributor to the development of CMM.
As an owner, be sure to watch for changes in your pet’s pigmented areas, especially those on the face and in and around the mouth. Trouble swallowing, bad breath, excessive salivation, bleeding, or a suspected jaw fracture are also signs of oral melanoma. Male dogs are 1.4 to 6 times more likely to develop CMM than females and the cancer is more often diagnosed in older dogs; the average age is about 11 years old.
Whenever your pet is showing signs of a health issue your first step is to contact your primary care veterinarian. If it is indicated that your pet may suffer from oral melanoma or another serious condition, a veterinary specialist is available at an ExpertVet certified or affiliated hospital.