SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— Though surprising to some, breast cancer is one of the most common cancers contracted by female dogs, but pet owners should know there are ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the cancer.

“In veterinary medicine we call it mammary gland cancer,” said Dr. Jennifer Scarlett with the San Francisco SPCA. “If you think about it, when you have eight to 10 puppies you have a lot of mammary gland tissue there.”

Scarlett said the number one preventative measure is to spay female dogs before their first heat. “That virtually eliminates the chance for breast cancer in dogs,” she said.

Spaying after a couple of heat cycles is still useful, but Scarlett said the earlier the better.

With older dogs who were spayed later in life, Scarlett said it’s part of their medical exam and that the veterinarian should be palpating these areas. If they feel any lumps or bumps they would go on to recommend a biopsy.

If your dog is diagnosed with breast cancer, the first treatment is usually surgical excision. Half the time, the biopsy will show that the cancer is malignant. “Then we go on to talk about whether [the cancer] has spread or whether or not chemotherapy is helpful.”