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What is a Vaccine-Related Sarcoma?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Vaccine-related sarcoma is a very malignant cancer which appears mostly in cats, although it has been documented in dogs and ferrets, as well. This condition is also known as vaccine-associated sarcoma (VAS), and a number of nations have set up task forces to monitor cases of vaccine-associated sarcoma, with the intent of determining the cause of the condition and possible preventative measures which could be used to reduce the likelihood of developing vaccine-related sarcoma.

The two vaccines most closely associated with vaccine-related sarcoma are the rabies vaccine and the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) vaccines. Typically the sarcoma appears within a few weeks of vaccination, in the form of a rapidly growing lump which may ulcerate through the skin. Vaccine-related sarcoma is infamous for being extremely fast-growing and aggressive, and it requires prompt action.

In a situation where a veterinarian suspects vaccine-related sarcoma may be present, a biopsy is taken, and the cat is scheduled for a lumpectomy to remove the sarcoma. If the biopsy comes back as positive for sarcoma, the surgery will go forward. Many vets excise well around the margins of the tumor, to ensure that it will not recur. Because sarcomas often appear near the spine, due to the placement of the vaccination site, some veterinarians prefer to recommend surgeons who are comfortable with working around the spine. After the sarcoma is removed, chemotherapy and radiation may be recommended to ensure that the sarcoma is eradicated.

This problem was first recognized in 1991, and it spurred a major reform of vaccination protocols for cats. Suspect ingredients in vaccines were also identified and outlawed to address the rise of vaccine-associated sarcoma. Veterinarians and cat owners are also encouraged to report cases of vaccine-related sarcoma for the purpose of generating as much data as possible.

The risk of vaccine-related sarcoma is real, but you should not let it stop you from vaccinating your cat. Discuss the feline vaccinations recommended for your pet with your veterinarian, and ask his or her opinion on the frequency of vaccination; some researchers suspect that the risk of vaccine-related sarcoma may be elevated by repeated vaccines. If your cat goes outdoors, vaccinating for FeLV and rabies is not optional. These diseases are horribly painful and unpleasant, and while vaccine-associated sarcoma can be deadly, the risk of infection with rabies or FeLV is not worth skipping a needed vaccine.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By recapitulate — On Oct 19, 2010

Vaccination safety is an issue in human as well as pet vaccines. However, like human vaccination for polio, MMR, and mengingitis vaccines, to name a few, dog and cat vaccination for rabies especially far outweighs the risk of not vaccinating.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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