Diagnosis and treatment of a dermal malignant melanoma in an African lion (Panthera leo)

J Zoo Wildl Med. 2013 Sep;44(3):721-7. doi: 10.1638/2013-0023R2.1.


A 13-yr-old intact male African lion (Panthera leo) presented with a 4-mo history of left maxillary lip swelling. On physical examination, a 10-cm-diameter, ulcerated, round, firm, and pigmented mass at the level of the left maxillary canine tooth was noticed. All other organ systems examined were within normal limits. Multiple biopsies of the mass were collected and fixed in 10% neutral buffered formalin. Histopathologic evaluation of the biopsies revealed a malignant dermal melanoma. Hematologic and plasma biochemical parameters were within normal reference ranges. Thoracic radiographs taken 3 days following initial presentation showed no evidence of metastasis of the tumor. Computed tomography of the skull and neck was performed to evaluate local tumor invasion and to plan for hypofractionated radiation therapy. Therapy included four weekly treatments of 8 gray external-beam hypofractionated radiation and four bimonthly immunotherapy treatments. Following this treatment regime, the tumor size was reduced by 50%, and surgical excision was performed. No major side effects associated with radiation or immunotherapy were seen. Six months after diagnosis, hematologic and plasma biochemical parameters were within normal limits, thoracic radiographs showed no evidence of metastasis, and the lion showed no clinical signs of disease. The lion will continue to receive immunotherapy every 6 mo for the rest of its life. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first report of a successful treatment of a malignant dermal melanoma with external-beam hypofractionated radiation, immunotherapy, and surgical excision in an African lion.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cancer Vaccines / administration & dosage
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology
  • Lions*
  • Lip Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Lip Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Lip Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Lip Neoplasms / veterinary*
  • Male
  • Melanoma / diagnosis
  • Melanoma / prevention & control
  • Melanoma / radiotherapy
  • Melanoma / veterinary*


  • Cancer Vaccines