Sarcoids are skin tumours that can affect all equine species. They do not spread to underlying structures or internal organs but they do tend to grow and can spread within the skin. In most cases they are only a cosmetic issue, however they can attract flies, causing distress to the horse, and can become ulcerated and infected. They may also cause functional problems in certain locations such as near the eye or in areas where tack would sit. Sarcoids also often reduce the value of a horse for sale.
Sarcoids are much easier to treat when they are small, single lesions than when they have been allowed to grow, so treatment is usually advised sooner rather than later. Treatment options include surgical removal, treatment with chemotherapy creams, injection of chemotherapy agents, radiotherapy, and freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy). Sometimes, more than one treatment is used concurrently.
The recommended treatment(s) will depend on the location, size and type of sarcoid and other individual circumstances. No treatment carries a 100% success rate and sarcoid recurrence is always a risk. Traditional surgical removal using a scalpel has been associated with relatively low success rates, however we have had good success using laser surgery at Chiltern Equine Clinic.
During laser surgery the skin is cut using a laser rather than a cold scalpel. This has the effect of heating cells around the incision, thereby killing sarcoid cells that may be remaining in the skin. The tissue remaining at the base of the removed sarcoid can also be treated with the laser, again with the aim of killing remaining sarcoid cells.
Following removal of the sarcoid there is an area of skin loss that will take some time to heal fully. There may also be local swelling and weeping for the first few days after surgery. Long term, however, the cosmetic outcome is usually very good.
Many horses tolerate laser sarcoid removal under sedation and local anaesthesia, however some cases may require a short general anaesthetic. Standing laser sarcoid removal can be performed at any of our clinics, however removal under general anaesthesia is performed at Blueberry Farm.