Updated: Jan 15, 2021
Lymphoma is one of the most common forms of cancer in both small animals and humans. In fact, this form of cancer represents 15-20% of all new cancer diagnoses in dogs. While it can affect any breed, some dogs seem to have a genetic predisposition to this form of cancer. Breeds that may be at increased risk include: Airedale Terriers, Basset Hounds, Boxers, Bulldogs, Bullmastiffs, Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, and Scottish Terriers.
There are vast amounts of literature and research on lymphoma. Below, you will find more information about this form of cancer and signs to look for in your pet. If you recognize any of the mentioned signs or symptoms, please make an appointment to speak to your veterinarian. The sooner lymphoma is diagnosed and treated, the greater the chance of remission for your pet.
What is it?
To understand what this cancer is and how it affects the body, you will first need to know what lymph nodes are. Lymph nodes can be found in over a hundred different points in the body and are part of the lymphatic system. If you have ever gone in to see a doctor and they have felt around your throat, it is likely they were feeling for your lymph nodes to see whether or not they were enlarged. This can be a sign that your body is fighting off an infection.
Lymphoma is a cancer that attacks the lymph nodes causing them to swell and harden. The cancer can be localized to a specific part of the body or it can spread through "lymph vessels" to other parts of the body. Eventually, the bone marrow and the immune system are affected which causes severe anemia and weakness in the patient. Lymphoma can be fatal if left untreated.
Symptoms for lymphoma can vary from mild to severe. Many symptoms can mimic other illnesses, which can make it difficult to diagnose. Symptoms may include any of the following:
- Enlarged lymph nodes (commonly under the jaw and behind the knee)
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin ulcers
These symptoms do not necessarily mean that your pet has lymphoma and symptoms often vary depending on which part of the body is impacted. However, if you see any signs or symptoms like those above, it is important to bring them in to be seen by your veterinarian. They can run a myriad of tests to determine the most appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Often, patients will not feel particularly sick at the time of diagnosis. As a result, you may be tempted to forego treatment for a later date. However, it is important to note that the earlier treatment begins, the better chance your pet has at reaching remission.
There are four types of canine lymphoma. These are:
- Multicentric (systemic) lymphoma: This is the most common type of canine lymphoma where lymph nodes are affected throughout the body. This type of lymphoma accounts for approximately 80-85% of cases in dogs.
- Alimentary lymphoma: This is the second most common type of canine lymphoma that affects the gastrointestinal tract.
- Mediastinal lymphoma: This is a rare form of lymphoma. It generally affects the space between the lungs.
- Extranodal lymphoma: This type of lymphoma is rare and impacts organs outside of the lymphatic system (i.e. skin, kidneys, lungs, nervous system, etc.).
Much like in humans, treatment for lymphoma generally consists of chemotherapy. However, radiation and surgery may also be used. It is important to note that oncology treatments are surprisingly well-tolerated in our pets. Common side effects seen in humans, such as nausea and hair loss, are fairly uncommon in pets. As noted above, the sooner treatment can begin, the greater the chance of remission in your pet. You can discuss treatment options with your veterinarian and medications can be provided to help minimize any adverse effects to treatment.
There is no cure for lymphoma. Therefore, the goal for treatment is generally to reach remission - a state when cancer is no longer detectable in the patient. There is a 75% chance of achieving remission when treated and chances increase when treatment is started early.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis for your pet can be scary. But, it is important to know that while it is the most common form of cancer in dogs, lymphoma is also the most treatable when diagnosed early. If you have any questions or concerns, you can bring them to your veterinary team. We are committed to bringing you the very best individualized care and treatment for your beloved pet.