By Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
Posted: November 27, 2012, 12:30 p.m. PST
Cancer is an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of tissue caused by damaged or mutated DNA. Tumors are a common form of cancer that grows from the uncontrolled division of cells. Tumors can be cancerous but they are not always. Other forms of cancer occur that are not in the form of tumors, such as leukemia, which causes abnormal cells in the blood, bone marrow and lymph system. Cancerous tumors on the skin and internal organs have been diagnosed in birds. Malignant internal tumors of the kidney, ovary or testicle are the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer in birds.
Mutated DNA causing cancer can occur due to environmental factors, genetic factors or viral infections. Once the tumor of the kidney or gonad begins to grow, the first sign is often the lameness of one leg, said Margaret A. Wissman, DVM, in a February 2006 BIRD TALK article. “This occurs because the tumor often impinges on the nerves to the leg on that side, resulting in lameness,” she wrote. “Eventually the abdomen may become distended, either because the tumor continues growing or because fluid accumulates in the abdomen.”
Catching cancer early on increases your bird’s chances of recovery. Regularly check your bird for abnormal growths and do not wait for a lump to grow before taking your bird to an avian vet. Cancer cannot be diagnosed solely based on an exterior examination, such as feeling suspected area of a tumor. A biopsy must be performed where some of the cells within a lump or affected area are removed and examined under a microscope. Other tests can be performed to aid in the diagnosis cancer. Your avian vet will take a thorough history, and this information (providing the account of the growth of the mass, for example), can help lead to a presumptive diagnosis, Wissman said.
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Inc./Courtesy Omar's Exotic Birds
Check your pet bird for lumps and tumors. If you find one, take it to your avian veterinarian to diagnosis it.
In some cases surgical removal of the cancerous tumor cures the problem; however, there are incidents where the cancer can spread to other parts of the bird’s body. To rule out the spread of cancer, additional tests may be required, such as radiographs, MRIs or CT scans. Wissman suggested in her February 2006 article that malignant tumors on a bird’s limb are often best dealt with by amputating the limb so as to prevent reoccurring cancer. Birds, she said, adapt well to losing a limb. Depending of the case, chemotherapy and radiation treatment may be called for, although these specialty treatments for birds may only be available at select locations, such as veterinary colleges and specialty centers. The chance for long-term survival depends on many factors, such as the size and location of the tumor, how aggressive the tumor cells are, if the primary tumor has already spread and the general condition and age of the patient.
Disclaimer: BirdChannel.com’s Bird Health Index is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s health if you suspect your pet is sick. If your pet is showing signs of illness or you notice changes in your bird’s behavior, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.