Lymphosarcoma (lymphoma) is a cancer arising from one of the white blood cells in the body called the lymphocyte. Lymphoma affects all species of pets as well as people. Like most cancers, lymphoma affects older patients with greater frequency. In the cat, however, our veterinarians do see a grouping of patients that develop this disease in the 18 month to 3 year range usually due to the presence of the feline leukemia virus.
Lymphocytes are present throughout the body and are found in every organ system. Therefore, we can see lymphoma develop just about anywhere in the body.
What are the symptoms of lymphoma?
Like all cancers, lymphoma can cause the following general symptoms in any pet:
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
Lymphoma can cause the level of calcium in the blood to rise which impairs the function of the kidney and can lead to increased consumption of water and increased urination.
Depending on which part of the body is affected by the tumor, other symptoms will vary. For example, gastrointestinal lymphoma might be associated with vomiting and diarrhea, while lymphoma of the lymph nodes in the chest might result in breathing problems.
How do our veterinarians diagnose lymphoma?
The diagnosis of lymphoma is generally done by localizing a tumor site through the use of x-rays and/or ultrasound. Once we know where the tumor is, then a biopsy is taken to determine the what type of tumor it is. Because lymphoma can affect multiple sites in the body, our veterinary team generally take x-rays of the chest and abdomen. Frequently, we will need to do a bone marrow aspiration to determine if the cancer has spread into the bone marrow. Determining where the tumor is located in the body is called “staging” the tumor. The more places we find the tumor, the worse the prognosis for treatment becomes.
Can Lymphoma be treated?
Lymphoma is one of the most studied and successfully treated tumors of dogs and cats. Because of it’s tendency to spread throughout the body, surgery is rarely the only treatment used with lymphoma. Instead, drug therapy is the main method for treatment. There are many different drug protocols used in the treatment of lymphoma and each has its pros and cons. Our veterinarians try to select a protocol based on the individual patient’s condition, the familial logistics (how often you can bring in the pet, how well the pet is being monitored etc) and financial concerns. Treating dogs and cats has a median survival (1/2 patients survived less than, and ½ patients survived longer than) of approximately 10 months in dogs and 1 year in cats. These are only statistical numbers and each patient will have differing outcomes.
What are the goals of therapy?
Lympoma, as with most cancers can not generally be cured. Our goals of therapy are to:
- Prolong the life of the patient
- Provide good quality of life for the patient
- Minimize the side effects of the drug therapy
- Treat complications arising from therapy
What are the complications of therapy?
The drugs our veterinary team uses for treating Lymphoma are selected because of their ability to destroy rapidly dividing cancer cells. Unfortunately, cells in the gastrointestinal tract are also rapidly dividing and so frequently (about 20-40%) of the pets will exhibit some form of gastrointestinal distress (anorexia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) during the treatment. Sometimes these effects can be severe and warrant hospitalization. Many of the drugs we use can have other side effects including immune system suppression, heart related problems, kidney and bladder problems, liver problems etc. Once a therapy has been selected for your pet, our veterinarians will review the specific problems that may arise with your pet while on therapy.
Despite all of these potential problems, the majority of our cancer patients experience an overall improvement in the quality of life.
Should I treat a disease we can’t cure?
The question to treat or not to treat is one that only you can decide. Treating lymphoma can be a very rewarding experience for both the pet and the owner. The prognosis for treating lymphoma is actually better than many diseases that people would readily treat such as heart, liver or kidney failure. Ultimately, the cancer will most likely win out, but many people are thankful for the extra time treatment can give them to enjoy their pets. Our veterinarians will be happy to give you any information that you need to help you make this difficult decision. Call us today at (909) 980-3575.