Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sarcoids and Melanomas in Horses

Now that it is spring and the horses are shedding their winter coats, Bombay's old scars are coming into view again. Grey horses are susceptible to melanomas, which are usually hard black nodules that grow on the skin, but they come in other forms too. Fortunately, melanomas are not as worrisome in horses as they are in people. I can recall my panic when the vet told me that Bombay had melanomas. I imagined cancer spreading throughout his internal organs, eventually taking his life. The vet explained that they are benign and usually nothing more than a blemish.

Bombay had two really large melanomas about the size of a silver dollar on each butt cheek and one shoulder. He also had several smaller bumps along his neck and back. Ironically, they are most often found clustered around the anus, but he had none there. The vet suggested that we put him on a medication called Cimetidine and see how the melanomas react. He said that sometimes the Cimetidine does nothing, sometimes it stops the growth of the melanomas, sometimes it shrinks them, and sometimes they go away all together. It was a gamble considering that a month's supply of these horse pills cost $70 at the time, which I believe was in the year 2000.

Getting the horse to take those pills was no small feat. I remember trying to mix them in with his grain, but when I'd go back into his stall to collect his bucket, there would be his pills sitting in the bottom of the bucket and every granule of grain had been licked clean. I think I eventually had better luck mixing them in wet bran mash. At any rate, I gave the drug three months and saw no signs of improvement. The tumors were still growing. At that point the vet suggested excising them.

"Will he end up with holes in him and look like Swiss cheese?" I asked anxiously.

The vet sighed. "No," he said in a somewhat sarcastic tone. "Your horse will not look like Swiss cheese."

I try to avoid the sight of blood, so I left Bombay at the clinic to have his surgery. The doctor said to return at closing time to pick him up. I arrived at closing time, and the vet was just starting the surgery. He apologized, saying he had several emergencies that day. His assistant had gone home, so he asked me to help. I think my heart stopped. Bombay was standing sedated in a wash rack, and the doctor was cutting into his shoulder with a scalpel. A stream of blood was pouring down his shoulder and leg.

"Just hold his head and try to keep him from leaning. I need him to hold still," he said.

I watched with my mouth hanging open, holding my horse's head as the vet moved from nodule to nodule cutting each out. He cleaned the holes, then got a needle and thread and sewed up each incision. Since the tumors were so large, he had to stretch the skin to bring it together. I doubted that the stitches would hold. I think it was on the second day of Bombay's recovery that the stitches in one butt cheek broke, and on the third day the stitches on his shoulder broke. I called the vet, but he wasn't worried. He just told me to keep the wounds clean until they heal. Bombay may not look like Swiss cheese, but he does have noticeable scars where the hair won't grow in.

Once summer comes, I'll take another butt shot so that you can see just how big this scar spans.

When Bombay's melanomas were removed, I was told to expect future surgeries, because more would probably start popping up. We got lucky. Nothing else surfaced on him for a while. Lostine, however, was a different story. She developed a white, lumpy mass on the inside of her ear. People described it as looking like cauliflower. I pulled out my veterinary manuals and researched what that thing might be. Based on the descriptions in the manuals, it was most likely a sarcoid. The vet came out to take a look and agreed with my diagnosis. He explained that they usually freeze them off the skin with liquid nitrogen, but cannot totally remove them. He also told me a story of a vet who repeatedly tried to freeze one off the inside of a horse's ear, and the horse ended up with a permanent hole in its ear. For that reason, my vet was only willing to freeze it once.

Fortunately, the majority of the lumpiness went away, and all that remained was a white scab on the inside of Lostine's ear. Anyone looking at it might think it was a piece of wood shaving or a play of light.

Some time later, melanomas started popping up on Bombay again. When a different vet came by to give the horses their immunizations, I asked him for advice on what to do about those pesky melanomas. I didn't want more surgeries and more scars for Bombay. This vet whipped out a tiny brown jar of Xterra, a reddish-brown muddy substance made mostly of blood root, and told me that it was an experimental salve that was making headway with sarcoids. He had confidence that it would work with melanomas too.

I was to apply it directly onto the melanomas after shaving the hair around them. I had to be careful not to smear any on the healthy skin. The ointment needed to be applied once a day for 4 days, and then not applied for 4 days. I was to do these 4 day cycles until the tumors sloughed off. I wasn't sure what "sloughed off" meant, but it made perfect sense when it happened. I believe I did two cycles of 4 days on, then off, and one day discovered that the tumors just slid right off the skin. There was very little bleeding because the healthy skin was already coming together and healing in the location where the tumors had been.

The great thing about Xterra is that it potentially helps the horse create an immunity to melanomas and sarcoids, so no more cropped up on Bombay after that. Eventually my other gray horse Gabbrielle developed a sarcoid right smack in the middle of her face. There was no way I was going to let anyone freeze or cut into her gorgeous Arabian face, so I immediately started cycling the Xterra. It took three cycles, but the sarcoid wiped right off her face one day and left no scar behind. That tiny jar of goop cost me something in the triple digits, but it saved two of my horses from having surgery and additional scars, so in my mind it was well worth it. I swear by it, but you may want to peruse the discussion boards on Xterra before choosing that therapy for your horse.

Here are some links to articles that provide more information about sarcoids and melanomas in horses:


onthebit said...

I am glad I am not the only person in the world who has a horse with cancer. Those darn grey horses are always causing problems. Genny has melinomas all in the dock of his tail. Because of the location my vet was not very worried it would spread. I did give the pills a try a few years back but Genny wouldn't eat them. I am going to have to ask my vet about Xterra. I must say it does sound a bit gross to have the tumors just pop on out! The big fear with Genny's is that his tail would come out and you do not want to see a thin skined TB in the summer with bugs on him and no tail! Did the hair come out too? Or just the melinoma?

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

onthebit - In the case of the Xterra, the hair grew back in over healthy skin and there were no sign of the previous melanomas and sarcoids. However, by the time I was using the Xterra, I knew what to look for and caught the blemishes while they were still small. In the case of excisions, the skin stayed black and the hair never grew in.

Rising Rainbow said...

You did a great job on this post. Lots of good information. Many people have no idea about melanomas or sarcoids on horses.

Callie said...

Misty had one once on her eyelid that the vet removed, no problem. It was real small and you can't even tell. I almost forgot about it.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Glad to see they have come up with something to help horses with this problem. I will make notes on this medicine in my notebooks. A person can never have too much information.

Twinville said...

This post was very interesting!
You really have been through the wringer concerning dealing with cancer in your horses, haven't you? It's wonderful that ou didn't have to go toward any more surgeries and serious scarring, though, thanks to the Xterra. Sounds like a miracle invention. I wonder if it is used on humans to with any success?

You said:
""Will he end up with holes in him and look like Swiss cheese?" I asked anxiously."

That's something I would say, too. Darm Dr for being sarcastic about it, though.

Not to laugh but when you think about it is a little funny how your horses were like little foodies, looking like swiss cheese and cauliflower. hehe
I'm just relived that they are doing so good now.
I bet you keep a tub of that XTerra on hand all the time.

Twinville said...

Oh! And I forgot to add, I never realized that Lostine's forelock was so long and wispy. She's a beauty!

Mrs Mom said...

My old equine vet in Tundra Country once told me that every grey horse is either: dealing with melanoma, or is going to get a melanoma n time.

I still wonder why that is, as just about every grey we have come in contact with over the years has held that true- ones that we knew that were melanoma free popped one or two out....

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Rainbow - Thank you.

Callie - The eyelids are another common place for melanomas.

Cowgirls - Hopefully, most of the vets know about it by now and should have some on hand.

Twinville - The vet told me that he had a friend who used it on a sore on his forehead. I'll let my "foodie" know about your compliment on her wispy forelock.

Mrs. Mom - I read somewhere that people think that greys are more susceptible to sunburn, and that is why they get melanomas. However, that has been proven as a myth. It's still a mystery when grey horses get them so often. One would think it would have something to do with their skin pigment. Also, the vet manuals say they appear on older horses, but Bombay grew his when her was just a couple of years old.

SolitaireMare said...

I'm all too familiar with melanomas. I've heard of the ointment that you describe but my vet didn't feel it was prudent to use under the tail, and that's where my horses' condition is bad. (Hmm, he's also got clusters of them in his sheath and I don't think he'd appreciate me using it there, either, LOL!) I'm always glad to read more information on this and especially when someone finds something that is effective!