This article is going to discuss lymphoma in dogs, which is one of the most common canine cancers. The lymphatic system is responsible for carrying a liquid called lymph around the body. It drains away excess fluid and other gunk such as waste, bacteria and viruses. This lymphatic system plays a vital role in your dog’s immune system (and in humans too).
It’s made up of lymph vessels that carry the lymph fluid, and lymph nodes which are glands that are joined together by the lymph vessels. These nodes filter the lymph fluid, removing germs and other harmful stuff.
Symptoms of lymphoma in dogs and what to do about it
Lymphoma is one of the most prevalent types of cancer found in dogs. This fast-growing malignancy is able to grow wherever there is lymph tissue, which is virtually every organ in the body.
Lymphoma cancer can be aggressive and, if it’s left untreated, it has a high mortality rate. However, treatment with chemotherapy can be very successful, adding months and sometimes years to a dog’s life.
Which dogs are at risk?
Any dog, regardless of age, sex or breed can get lymphoma cancer. However, the cancer mainly affects middle aged to older dogs.
Certain breeds also appear to be more prone to the disease, with Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Bull Mastiffs, Bassets, Saint Bernards, Scottish Terriers, Airedales, and Bulldogs, particularly susceptible.
Nobody fully understands why lymphomas form in dogs (or humans, for that matter). In cats, it appears to be strongly linked to the feline leukaemia virus. But no similar link is apparent in canine lymphoma.
There has also been some research that suggests a genetic link.
The symptoms of lymphoma in dogs depend on the location and size of the tumor (or tumors), and the stage of the lymphoma.
Cutaneous lymphoma affects the skin and presents in the form of single or multiple lumps on the skin, or in the mouth. These lumps may be itchy, red and ulcerated.
When the lymphoma occurs in the gastrointestinal tract (alimentary lymphoma), it causes vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and lack of appetite.
Lymphoma in the chest (mediastinal lymphoma) creates shortness of breath and muffled heart sounds.
Dog lymphoma can also occur in the heart, eyes, bone marrow, and the central nervous system.
The first indication of canine lymphoma is likely to be one or more lumps just under the skin. These are caused by swollen lymph glands. If you find these lumps on your dog, even if he shows no sign of illness, take him to the vet immediately.
It may be that they are simply non-malignant lipomas, but if your vet finds that the lymph nodes are enlarged and firm, he’ll have to run some tests.
The next step is an analysis of blood and urine, as well as a biopsy of one or more lymph nodes. X-rays and ultrasound may also be employed.
Lymphoma treatment for dogs
Lymphoma in dogs is treated with chemotherapy as other methods, like surgery and radiation, are ineffective.
The exact treatment protocol will be determined by the veterinarian, but will usually include a mix of oral and injectable drugs given on a weekly basis. Drugs that are commonly used include cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin, and prednisone.
In dogs that receive chemotherapy protocols, life expectancy can be extended by about a year, but rarely longer. This may not seem like a lot but you have to place it in the context of a dog’s normal life expectancy which is obviously much shorter than a human’s – a year is a much larger percentage of a dog’s normal life expectancy. Most dogs tolerate chemotherapy well, so the quality of life is quite good while undergoing treatment.
For dogs that don’t receive chemotherapy treatment (if for example, you decide that you don’t want to prolong your dog’s suffering with a reduced quality of life), life expectancy is 4-6 weeks. Oral prednisone therapy may reduce swelling and discomfort, caused by the lymphoma, during this time.
Cost of lymphoma treatment
When working out the cost of treatment for lymphoma in dogs, you have to include the cost of the initial diagnosis too. This will involve tests for the lymphoma cancer and to work out the stage the cancer has already reached. The cost for this initial diagnosis will probably be up to about $2,000 in the US.
The total cost of the chemotherapy treatment is likely to be anywhere from $1,000 up to about $7,000 depending on the size of the dog, and the type and length of the treatment. Bear in mind that this is the total cost and is likely to be broken down into monthly costs for about a year or so.