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Equine Cancer - Sarcoids
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Equine Cancer - Sarcoids

If you find an odd-looking patch of skin or a lump on your horse, don't ignore it. It could be a sarcoid. Although one per cent of sarcoids resolve themselves without intervention, all are cancerous and the earlier they are recognised and diagnosed, the earlier they can be treated and the better the prognosis will be.

There are a number of different types of sarcoids.


Occult (or early) sarcoids development usually appears as a circular area where the hair appears thinner or of a lighter colour. This is easily confused with ringworm as it looks very much the same. There may be some scaly skin present but on palpating the skin you should be able to feel little gritty bits – these are the sarcoids. These occur most commonly on the horse's face, armpit, inside of the thigh and in the groin area.


These sarcoids resemble warts. They vary in size from tiny to huge and have a pronounced scaly surface. They may also have a surrounding rim where hair loss is evident, although this is not always the case.


As the name suggests, these sarcoids present as lumps in the skin and frequently appear around the eyes or inner thigh and may occur individually or in groups. Some have a verrucose crown; others are enclosed in a small capsule. The most dangerous and difficult to treat appear as multiple nodules which have a root and are extremely difficult to treat.


These sarcoids appear very much like proud flesh. They bleed easily and may have scabby areas. Some are deep rooted and difficult to treat. Interference with the three milder types of sarcoid can cause them to become fibroblastic.


Mixed sarcoids are simply those with a combination of two or more types of sarcoid within them. They can occur anywhere but most commonly appear on the head, armpit and groin.


Any type of lesion which spreads into the deeper tissues beneath the skin and becomes extensive is referred to as 'malignant'. These aggressive, invasive sarcoids are fortunately rare but occur most commonly on the inside of the thigh, elbow and face.


Never try to treat a sarcoid yourself, no matter how insignificant it may at first appear. This could trigger changes which may ultimately leave it untreatable. There are many treatments available and your vet will advise you on the most appropriate for your horse's case.

Surgical removal

Surgery can be an option if appropriate and is popular because it is effective, fast and cosmetic.

Cryogenic surgery

This involves freezing the sarcoid off but it is essential that all the affected cells are removed. If one single cell is left behind, the sarcoid will recur.

Laser treatment

Laser surgery is also used to remove sarcoids and is particularly useful in areas with a good blood supply as it inhibits bleeding.

Bandage ligation

This treatment involves tying the sarcoid off and cutting off the blood supply to it. This is only effective if the whole tumour is totally enclosed by the tie off band.


Chemotherapy treatments range from injectable drugs to topical creams. Some can only be administered by your vet but others you can do yourself. Never, ever be tempted to buy a "miracle treatment" over the internet. Horses have died as a result of inappropriate and misguided treatment administered without veterinary advice.


Radiotherapy is very effective but is also extremely expensive and is therefore rarely available for use in horses. There are only a few centres offering this treatment for equines in the UK.

Immune methods

Sarcoids around the eyes can be successfully treated through the injection of BCG – the human tuberculosis vaccine. For reasons unknown, this treatment only works on sarcoids in this specific area.

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  1. PonyGirl
    Very informative article. I had one horse who had this. The vet injected him with some type of chemotherapy. The lesions were on his neck. His neck swelled up and was very painful for about 2 days, then the swelling went down, the scabby looking parts of the cancer fell off, the hair grew back, and the cancer never returned.
    1. autumnap
      Thank you. They do seem to vary tremendously in the outcome and severity. I know people whose horses have been cured relatively easily and two cases where the sarcoids became so problematic and aggressive that they had to be put to sleep. x
  2. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Woo these are scary and icky! I pray Cookie doesn't get these. :( Great post! Voted! :) x
    1. autumnap
      Thank you kindly! x

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