Cancer is complex. While many forms of cancer in dogs present similar symptoms, the underlying problems each type of cancer causes can vary wildly, which is why different cancers can have very different treatment plans and prognoses.
One of the most common forms of dog cancer is lymphoma, a disease that affects the white blood cells that regulate immunity. While this type of canine cancer is very similar to its human form, understanding the details of the disease as they relate to dogs may help you more easily navigate your pup’s diagnosis and treatment.
What is lymphoma?
The term “lymphoma” is used to describe a group of cancers that affect the body’s lymphocytes, or white blood cells that fight against infections. Lymphocytes are most commonly found in organs related to the immune system, including the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, liver and digestive tract. Because of the high concentration of lymphocytes in these areas, lymphoma most commonly affects these organs, but it can also affect other organs and bodily systems like the skin and nerves.
While lymphoma is a blanket term, there are many more terms that describe the specific forms of lymphoma that can affect dogs. Some of the most common are:
- Multicentric lymphoma: Multicentric lymphoma is one of the most common forms of canine lymphoma. This disease affects the lymph nodes, causing them to become swollen—between three and 10 times their normal size. The enlarged lymph nodes are not generally painful and can move freely beneath the skin. Lymph nodes may be found in the neck, chest, armpits and groin.
- Alimentary lymphoma: The second most common form of lymphoma is alimentary lymphoma, which causes symptoms in the intestines like abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. This form only affects around 10 percent of dogs with lymphoma.
- Extranodal lymphoma: Extranodal lymphoma is another blanket term for more specific types of canine lymphoma that affect particular organs like the skin or spleen. The symptoms of extranodal lymphomas will be related to the organs they affect; for example, lymphoma of the skin typically results in raised nodes on the skin or in the mouth.
Experts are unsure of the cause of lymphoma. At this time, there are no know genetic factors that make dogs predisposed to the disease. Older dogs are more likely to develop lymphoma.
Unfortunately, because the symptoms of lymphoma are related to the particular part of the body that the disease affects, and these symptoms can be similar to many other diseases in dogs, it can be difficult to identify lymphoma right away. This is why you should take your dog to the vet as soon as they begin acting differently or showing any signs of illness.
Diagnosing lymphoma will rely on a series of tests that sample and examine fluid from the affected body part. Multiple other tests may be conducted to determine the specific stage of lymphoma present and which specific body parts have already been affected.
Prognosis and treatment
The prognosis for lymphoma, like its many forms, can vary wildly. Some types of lymphoma are quite aggressive, giving them a poorer prognosis. Others may be relatively easy to treat and to achieve remission from. How far the cancer has progressed can also make a dramatic impact on the ultimate prognosis of the disease. Early detection and treatment will most often provide the best outcome.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for lymphoma. Instead, vets will use conventional cancer treatments to help your dog reach remission, where no cancer cells are able to be detected but may still exist. Remission is not the same thing as a cure, but it can provide your pup with many more months or even years of a happy life. Even still, many dogs with lymphoma relapse after some time and require a second round of treatment.
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are two of the most common and most effective forms of treatment for canine lymphoma. Chemotherapy has the potential to cause some diarrhea or vomiting in dogs, as well as lethargy and a decreased appetite, but vets ensure that the doses of chemicals given to dogs will not make them severely sick. Their ultimate goal is to improve your dog’s quality of life throughout treatment and beyond, in spite of their disease.
Because of the high possibility of cancer relapse, pet parents of dogs with lymphoma may be interested in adding alternative forms of treatment to their pup’s treatment plan. These alternative methods, including medicinal mushrooms, CBD and immune support, may help bolster the body’s natural defenses, fight off cancer growth and relieve pain or discomfort.
Some alternative treatments may have anti-cancer effects, helping to reduce the chance of relapse, while others may simply help improve your pet’s quality of life as they age.
In general, lymphoma is a highly treatable form of cancer, but its effects on the body can be variable. If you suspect your dog has lymphoma, speak with your vet to determine the proper course of diagnosis and treatment to ensure the longest life for your pup possible.