Chameleon Skin Cancer (squamous cell carcinoma)

cubanbee

New Member
Hello forum folks,

So I've been spending a lot of time with the vet lately trying to determine what some bumps on my panther Pablo are. Results have come back after a few tests and the vet and lab are saying squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer) due to exposure to UV. I wrote an incredibly lengthy and likely boring blog post about the whole experience, but thought I'd post here with the form as I haven't really seen this come up much.

So yes, I've been to the vet, really just seeing if anyone has had a cham with skin cancer and maybe some suggestions on prevention as my vet has been unable to offer much in that category. The vet is just cutting out the cancerous areas and seeing how it goes from there.

Chameleon Info:

Your Chameleon - Male Panther Chameleon, approx 1.5 years, in my care 8 months.
Handling - Once or twice a week.. more lately due to the vet trips.
Feeding - Dubia, Silkworms, a few supers. Hoppers and mantids from the yard when I can find em. Pesticide free area. Gutloading with suggestions from Sandra's blog, homemade dry and wet loads.
Supplements - Pure calcium with each feeding, Repashy Calcium plus all in one weekly. Heptivite multi-vitamin bi-weekly.
Watering - Aquazamp raindome, 1 session for 10 mins daily (or until he stops drinking). Pablo is a binge drinker, takes him 5 mins of the water on to get going, then he goes big.
Fecal Description - Brown feces, white urate, occasional yellow spots.
History - See https://www.chameleonforums.com/blogs/cubanbee/828-pablos-skin-cancer-epic-why-cant-just-fungus.html for more details on his history.


Cage Info:

Cage Type - 2x2x4 LLL Screen enclosure
Lighting - Reptisun 5.0 in a Zilla fixture with the plastic cover over the bulb removed. Phillips Halogen (PAR20 50w) basking.
Temperature - 65-70 at the bottom of the cage ranging to 85-90 under the basking light. I use a probe to measure ambient temps and a temperature gun to measure my cham's temp while basking directly.
Humidity - 50-80%, peaking during mistings. I have a hydrometer in the cage.
Plants - Yes, a ficus and two pothos.
Placement - It's in our dining room essentially. It gets some regular but non-intrusive foot traffic and we have a privacy screen for the cage if it's particularly busy in that area.
Location - Coastal Northern California


Current Problem - My vet has determined Pablo has skin cancer and is removing the spots. He doesn't seem to have much advice for prevention, so seeing if anyone else has dealt with this situation in the past. Maybe even in another reptile.

Pics and more information that you probably ever wanted all here: https://www.chameleonforums.com/blogs/cubanbee/828-pablos-skin-cancer-epic-why-cant-just-fungus.html

Thanks all, have a great day!
 
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Olimpia

Biologist & Ecologist
All I can think of is to get a second opinion from a different vet about all of this. The UVB radiation from a Reptisun 5.0 is equivalent to the amount of UVB you'd get outside at the very start or end of the day in most of the world (like 8-9am and 6-7pm, for example, so relatively feable) and I have a hard time imagining that this would cause cancer in anything that's designed to live outside during the day, but who knows, perhaps it's more common than I know.
 

ferretinmyshoes

Veterinarian
Staff member
If the report came back as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) then that is what it is if it was diagnosed from histopathology from a pathologist. They were probably extrapolating from the known correlation in mammals of UV exposure and SCC. So don't discount the diagnosis, just the suspected causation.

Cancers in general are very unusual in reptiles and while SCC has been found in reptiles before there are no treatment recommendations that have been established yet besides removing the tumors. There were a few possible treatments to try last I read up on it. I'll see if anything new has come out recently...
 

Carlton

Chameleon Enthusiast
If the report came back as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) then that is what it is if it was diagnosed from histopathology from a pathologist. They were probably extrapolating from the known correlation in mammals of UV exposure and SCC. So don't discount the diagnosis, just the suspected causation.

Cancers in general are very unusual in reptiles and while SCC has been found in reptiles before there are no treatment recommendations that have been established yet besides removing the tumors. There were a few possible treatments to try last I read up on it. I'll see if anything new has come out recently...
I'd agree with ferret. While SCC could certainly happen, citing the cause as UV doesn't make sense at all. The organism requires exposure to UV for proper metabolism! If this individual cham ended up with a cancer there was probably some other genetic weakness involved.
 

sandrachameleon

Chameleon Enthusiast
Around 2005 I had a chameleon grow bumps that looked just like that.
DSC02564.JPG

It was an adult animal that I "rescued" so its history prior to my getting him was a bit sketchy. I don't think his care was great, since he lived in a fish tank without plants or much to climb on. His UVB light was a couple years old (in other words, no UVB). He didn't develop the lumps (that I noticed anyways) until a few months after I got him.

Your theory "rapid change from an apparently UVB deficient environment to full Reptisun 5.0 exposure somehow spurned the rapid cancerous growth" would fit my guys circumstances also.

The vets I used at the time never did figure out the problem. They thought maybe fungal, maybe hydration/humidity, maybe this that or the other thing. Samples sent to lab didn't give clear answers.

Removal of the lesions didn't help, in that More grew and the sites of removal were slow to heal (so I stopped getting them removed). Shedding became an issue. Never the less, he lived a couple more years.

I hope your guy (he's beautiful) makes a full recovery now that his lumps are gone, hopefully never to return.
 
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cubanbee

New Member
Thanks to everyone for their responses, I really appreciate it.

@ Ferret - Thanks for that info and the offer to see if there's anything new out there. My vet was right along line with only really knowing to remove the tumors. I can definitely see them connecting the UV with mammals in mind. It just made my brain hurt a little when the vet asked me "have you been exposing him to UV light?" Again, thanks so much for your input and time.

@ Sandra - The spots in your image are identical to those on Pablo. Definitely interesting the similarities in terms of changes in UVB exposure. Fingers crossed that removal of the current ones will do the trick. I think I might be with you on likely discontinuing the removals if the bumps keep appearing. Pablo seems fine otherwise, the biggest stresses in his life currently are the constant trips to the vet for surgeries. Otherwise he's pretty pampered and living the high life. :D

And yep, fluorescent tube Reptisun 5.0.
 

djfishygillz

Established Member
Dang I read the other blog and you are doing anything and everything. I am not a vet so I no advice but I do hope he gets better. He is a very pretty boy!
 

sandrachameleon

Chameleon Enthusiast
@ Sandra - The spots in your image are identical to those on Pablo. Definitely interesting the similarities in terms of changes in UVB exposure. Fingers crossed that removal of the current ones will do the trick. I think I might be with you on likely discontinuing the removals if the bumps keep appearing. Pablo seems fine otherwise, the biggest stresses in his life currently are the constant trips to the vet for surgeries.
Ya, with my guy I felt the stress of the vet trips and the constantly having to heal wasn't worth it. Im still not certain that was the right decision though. Some of them got quite large. And shedding around the bumps was a problem. The only one that seemed to bother him though was one on his eye. I should have found a vet who could remove it safely - the vet I was with at the time felt the whole eye had to go, and I couldn't agree to that.
sometimes its impossible to know what to do, with so little to go on. At least you know what it is and are catching it early. It was some months before my vet did a biopsy to remove one, and even then gave me no firm answer. You are more likely to have caught it in early stages, so hopefully it will not have spread.

Do you have a UV meter? is it possible you have a bad bulb that is emitting differently than the typical 5.0 reptisun? perhaps spectral content is less UVB1 and too much UVB2 ?
 
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ferretinmyshoes

Veterinarian
Staff member
Aww he's so cute!

It looks like there's nothing new...removal of the masses is pretty standard. In a chameleon with SCC around the eye there was no evidence of metastasis (spread to other organs) after 3 months when the chameleon died from egg binding complications. Radiation was tried in a snake (Madagascar ground boa) for SCC in the mouth, but it appeared to be resistant to radiation and did not shrink down and there were radiation side effects in the tissue around the mass. If the masses are completely removed then hopefully you will decrease the risk of metastasis. Just keep him happy otherwise.

Kudos for you for doing such an extensive workup on your little guy and getting a diagnosis! We need more people like you willing to do the work for their reptiles. :) Keep us updated!
 

cubanbee

New Member
Thanks for the replies again!

@Sandra, UV Meter is on my list in the next month here, thanks for the suggestion. This is a recommended one right? http://www.solarmeter.com/model62.html Any other brand suggestions are welcome. Based on your thought I decided to swap in my spare fresh 5.0 in the meantime until I can test.

@ferret, thanks for much for the follow up. Good to hear that it sounds like I'm at least on the right track and doing what can be done.

Since my last post, I also decided to rearrange the top of my cage some so that basking and UV are not right next to each other how they had been. I decided to go back to incandescent for basking as well. Essentially trying to roll back what I had pre-cancer and still maintain the required environmental conditions. The halogen looked nicer though... oh well! :cool:

Pablo's wounds from the excisions look ok. Their skin is so odd when it gets cut with the blackening, etc that it can be hard to tell what is still healing and what is potentially recurrence/missed masses. They look a little.. crusty. Time will tell, I'll post an update in a week or so when I go to the vet to get the stitches pulled and get a couple pics.
 

cubanbee

New Member
Update on Pablo and a question:

So Pablo had all three masses removed about a month ago. 2/3 excision spots are healing pretty reasonably. The third spot is being difficult. Twice now I've had to take Pablo back to the vet because the sutures have pulled through his skin and left a pretty big gaping hole. My vet is flummoxed. He's calling another vet with additional experience in reptiles.

I don't see Pablo trying to grab for the spot and scratch it (it's right behind his head) or purposefully rubbing on sticks or his enclosure on this area.

Any ideas? Maybe some sort of bandage to protect the area while it heals? Maybe glue rather than stitches?

He's at the vet now, but just looking for thoughts from others.

Best,
Kevin
 

ferretinmyshoes

Veterinarian
Staff member
If there are cancer cells in the area around where the mass was removed the skin will not heal correctly. I would probably just let it heal by second intention - form a scab and eventually new skin instead of being sutured closed. Putting silver sulfadiazene on the wound as it heals will help it heal and prevent infection.
 

cubanbee

New Member
Thanks as always Ferret. I had the same thought about cancerous cells in the area. We'll see what the vet here and his colleague have to say and one way or another, I'll be getting some silver sulfadiazene. I'd asked my vet both times I was there is there's something I should put on the wounds to help with cleaning and healing... they said it shouldn't be needed. Seems weird.

Suffice to say that after all of this I think that unfortunately we'll be looking for a new vet for future visits. Nice guy, the staff are nice, but they've had to bring in other folks on a number of occasions to help them and I'm still not really seeing any kind of expertise.

I sort of wish that when I first brought him in and the staff were so shocked and excited about how cool he looked I would have said "So, erm, you've never seen one before?" The main receptionist had to take a picture of him to send to her daughter... I have a feeling they deal with maybe ball pythons and iguanas and sold that to me as knowing what to do with ole Pablo here.

And then I think about your other post about how rare this kind of condition is and want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Ugh!
 
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