Lymphoma is a cancer that affects the cells of the immune system. This cancer in dogs is not dissimilar to non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in humans. While in some cases, a dog can have a complete remission of lymphoma, in most cases it can be life ending and a dog that does not undergo any treatment can have as little as two months to live after diagnosis. In this article, we'll learn about some of the causes of lymphoma, its symptoms and the various treatments that are available.
Lymphoma usually manifests itself as tumors in the lymph nodes, which are the closest to the skin's surface. This can happen in dogs of any age or any breed, though it usually occurs in middle aged dogs and Golden Retrievers are considered to have a higher risk of developing lymphoma. The causes of lymphoma are unknown. There could be genetic factors, as well as environmental. While there are some concerns that some pesticides or other lawn treatments can contribute to the development of lymphoma, but this connection is so modest that it is impossible to say for sure.
Very often, in very early stages of the disease, the dog may not show any signs of illness apart from swollen or hard lymph nodes, that the veterinarian may notice during a regular check up. The veterinarian may wish to do blood tests and a urinalysis, followed by a biopsy of one the lymph nodes in order to verify that lymphoma is the cause. Even if lymphoma has been diagnosed without a biopsy, a biopsy should be still performed, as it can help determine how fast the tumor is growing and the best course of action. Another battery of tests may be performed in order to understand what stage the cancer is in. There are five stages of lymphoma:
Stage I: - only one lymph node affected
Stage II: - several lymph nodes in the same general area affected
Stage III: - all peripheral lymph nodes affected
Stage IV: - all peripheral lymph nodes plus the liver, spleen, and/or anterior mediastinum in the chest affected
Stage V: - everything in stage IV plus bone marrow involvement
If left untreated, lymphoma will travel to anywhere where lymph tissues are located, which means nearly every organ in the body. It will cause an organ to fail, forcing the dog to loose his appetite, weaken and die. Even with treatment, the disease can eventually form a resistance to therapy and future remissions will be impossible.
Chemotherapy is the best way to combat lymphoma. There is a wide variety of chemotherapy treatments available, and which one given to an individual will depend on the stage of lymphoma and how the lymphoma responds. In most cases, dogs will not vomit or loose their coat with treatment (although Olde English Sheepdogs, poodles, Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus may experience some baldness). It is impossible to predict how a dog will respond to chemotherapy, but the best way to approach this illness is to do everything one can, working with the veterinarian or specialist as a team, to work towards the best quality of life possible.