Skin cancer in horses

Horses are not generally prone to cancers, however there are a few important ones to consider. The most common skin tumor is a sarcoid, which is usually fairly benign, but can be invasive and quite messy. Melanomas are common in grey horses and in some cases can be very invasive and large, while in other cases they remain small until the horse is very old. Squamous cell carcinoma can occur around the eye or sheath, usually. These can be quite aggressive. Cutaneous lymphosarcoma is uncommon, but a more serious form of cancer since it involves the lymphatic system internally even though you see it on the skin. Warts are not actually a cancer, though they have some of the characteristics of a benign tumor and respond to many of the same treatments.
Holistic treatment of cancers can range from simple to very complex, depending on the aggressiveness of the tumor and the horse’s own immune system. 
Cancer is the deepest breakdown of the immune system you can have, consequently can be very difficult to treat. A tumor is produced when the immune system can no longer tell a cell what to do and when to end its life naturally. All cells have a normal lifespan and at the end of that they have a procedure to die off and be replaced by a fresh young cell. This normal event is called apoptosis. A cancer cell continues to grow and multiply inappropriately. As a tumor grows larger, it will make its own blood supply. However, in many cases it grows faster than the blood supply can keep up, and you will smell tissue breaking down or disintegrating, essentially rotting away. 
A small benign tumor like a sarcoid grows slowly and may never leave a small area. The problem comes along sometimes when you cut out a quiet tumor or treat it in a way that irritates it. Remember the fact if a tumor is present it means the immune system is in poor shape. If you cut or aggravate it, the body’s immune system may go haywire and make more tumor tissue. This may occur at the original location or a new location. 
From the homeopathic perspective, a tumor is an expression produced by the vital force or energy of the body, basically complaining that there is a problem with the body. When a tumor keeps recurring at the same location, it indicates that the vital force is strong and keeps reminding you that the deep imbalance is still present. If the tumor recurs at other locations, it often means the animal is weaker at a deep level and it may take longer or be harder to help or cure them.
Vaccinations can play important role in the development of skin tumors. It has been observed that sarcoids tend to increase after vaccination in many cases. Over-vaccination can lead to suppressed or weakened immune systems. For many horses, unless you have known them their whole life, the true vaccination picture is unknown. When undergoing a treatment program, it is best to reconsider your vaccination program and absolutely minimize your vaccines. 
Treatment of various skin cancers involves taking a serious look at the horse’s complete history and should be done with a holistic veterinarian, due to the complexity of the disease process. Having said that, a simple sarcoid may respond well to a few doses of a homeopathic remedy, such as Thuja Occidantalis or Causticum. If you are not familiar with homeopathy, please consult your homeopathic veterinarian. 
In western medicine, the goal with a tumor is to cut it out and kill any possible tumor cells with a variety of treatments. When this occurs, the immune system is further weakened, and the disease process continues to get worse. The tumor may be gone, but later in life, the horse often gets a similar or even a different disease (such as allergies, chronic diarrhea, hives, etc). 
The goal of treatment in holistic medicine is to support the body’s immune system to help it kill off the tumor cells using a combination of nutritional supplements, homeopathy or Chinese herbs. 
In some cases the tumor is so large or fast growing that it will need to be removed in order to give time for the natural treatments to work. In other cases, you may choose to have some conventional medical treatment done, then to support the body’s healing with natural methods. This is commonly done with human cancer treatment and can be quite successful.
One fairly common treatment for external tumors is the use of bloodroot in a salve format, also called black salve. This herb in combination with some other compounds is a powerful anti-cancer agent. It will eat away at the abnormal tissue and leave the normal tissue alone. This is an effective means of removing simple skin tumors, though it does leave a wound behind that must be treated until it is healed. Remember, however, that anything other than a simple sarcoid may be there because of an imbalance in the energy and immune system. So it is important to use a complete holistic approach, not just burn the tumor the out with bloodroot.
The foundation of any health program is to feed clean, whole foods with as little processing as possible. Be sure your environment is not a source of toxins (streams with agricultural runoff as drinking water, sludge used as fertilizer, old orchards used as pasture, etc).
Nutritional supplements that can be added to any horse with any significant type of skin cancer include antioxidants, mushrooms, minerals, oils and immune regulators. You do not need to use all of these, unless your horse has a severe form of cancer.

  • Vitamin C in high doses, 10,000 IU can be an easy, inexpensive immune system regulator that has been used for many types of cancer. 
  • Antioxidant mixtures are sold by a number of companies and are excellent support nutrients. 
  • Selenium-check to see what the natural level of selenium is in your soil; many parts of the country are deficient. The addition of 2-4 mg can be safely added, and even higher doses with the support of your holistic veterinarian.
  • Zinc-very important for the immune system and the skin. If you do not have enough, use the picolinate form and give 200 mg per day.
  • Vitamin E, especially the succinate and tocotrienol form. Give up to 500-700 IU. This is especially important in areas where fresh green grass is not available, both in the far north and where pasture is not part of the diet.
  • Iodine may be more deficient in horses than we recognize. A kelp=based mineral supplement will get higher levels of iodine than most other forms.
  • Flax, hemp oils or meals. The antioxidant, anti-cancer properties of these oils are well researched. 2-4 oz of the oil may be used (keep refrigerated) or a naturally stabilized ground meal can be used at 4-6 oz twice a day, or whole seeds at about the same rate. Fish oils are not natural for horses to eat (except Icelandic’s), so I tend to avoid them, though there is good research in humans and small animals.
  • Immune supporting products such as IGG2000 (an immunoglobulin supplement), Artimesinin (an extract from the herb Artimesia), Fractionated Pectin Powder (an extract from fruit that helps prevent metastasis) and many more immune products are available. Many of these are expensive, so it is best to consult with your vet to help decide what is the best thing to use. 
  • Mushrooms such as Shiitake, Maitake, Cordyceps and Corius versicolor have been shown to be very helpful in many human and small animal tumors. These get very expensive in horses, so I do not get to use them as often as I would like. Usually 2-4 times the human dose works well for this type of supplement. 

The most powerful tools in my toolbox for treating most cancers in horses are constitutionally prescribed homeopathic remedies and Chinese herbal formulas based on the Chinese diagnosis of the individual horse. Since these are individualized, it is beyond the scope of this article to list products. 
Treating skin cancers can be challenging if you have an aggressive growth, but can also be rewarding if you support that body and its immune system. 

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