How Are Facial Tumors Diagnosed?


On the “Swelling of the face in cats and dogs” page of it says this: “Tumors or benign growths of the face, nose, sinuses, ears, or mouth may cause the face to appear swollen.” How is this explored/diagnosed? My cat has one side of her face badly swollen, and two docs say probably cancer, though nothing diagnostic supports this. It is the area one doc calls lip, another calls muzzle, and I call cheek- nose to under eye and whisker area. Nothing visible in mouth or throat. Had problem with eye infection, becoming rigid in orbit, losing blink. Eye removed, and nothing amiss visible in surgery. Dental surgery to remove teeth revealed nothing on site other than some granular tissue. Any ideas? Thank you!


I am concerned, based upon process of elimination, that a tumor is responsible for your cat’s facial swelling.

The most common cause of facial swelling is an infected tooth. Infected teeth often lead to swelling underneath the eye, and the eye and tissues around the eye (the conjunctiva) may also become swollen or irritated. Your cat’s facial swelling has persisted despite removal of potentially offending teeth and the affected eye; this discourages me.

The next steps are imaging, sampling, and titers. Intra-oral (dental) radiographs may give insight into the swelling. If not, CT or MRI may be a next step (PET scans, ironically, are not generally available in veterinary medicine). These advanced imaging tactics are the best methods for assessing facial structures.

Sampling of the affected area also may yield answers. If the swelling is soft, it may be possible to perform needle aspiration (similar to a biopsy, but less invasive and less painful) with mild sedation. If not, then a full biopsy (with heavy sedation or anesthesia) may be necessary. Aspirates and biopsies, however, have the potential to yield false negatives if a small tumor is surrounded by a large area of swelling.

Finally, a fungal infection called cryptococcosis can lead to facial swelling; the swelling usually occurs on the nose rather than the muzzle, but blood titers for the organism should be considered.

Although I am troubled by your cat’s situation, be aware that all hope is not lost. I am worried about cancer, but there is a chance that a benign (and potentially curable) process is causing the symptoms. The diagnostics outlined above are my recommended next steps.

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