Lymphosarcoma, better known as lymphoma or lymphoma cancer, is a disease that affects the cells of the immune system. This grave disease, not very different from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in human beings, is often fast moving and difficult to detect. Many dogs can only expect a life expectancy of two months after diagnosis if they do not undergo treatment. In this article, we'll take a closer look at how Lymphosarcoma develops, its symptoms and the best way to treat it.
Like any other cancer, Lymphosarcoma begins when a group of cells "go wrong." They usually group together and attack other cells or form tumors. With Lymphosarcoma, these tumors form in the lymph nodes, which are the closest to the skin's surface. In many cases, the dog may not experience any outward symptoms at all. It is often the veterinarian that notices that one or more lymph nodes are swollen or hard, which is an indicator of the disease. This can happen in dogs that are any age or any breed, although most dogs affected have reached middle age and Golden Retrievers are said to be genetically predisposed to develop this disease. The causes of Lymphosarcoma are unknown; it is thought that genetics are involved, and while some blame outward influences such as pesticides and other yard treatments, the link between these and the cancer are so weak that it is impossible to say for sure.
Once a veterinarian suspects that Lymphosarcoma is present, he may take blood and urine tests to make a better diagnosis. After these tests, he may even wish to take a biopsy of the lymph node, which will verify the presence of the cancer. Even if a biopsy was not taken in order to make a diagnosis, it is a good idea to perform one anyway, as this will help determine which stage of Lymphosarcoma the dog is in and can help determine the best treatment. There are five stages of Lymphosarcoma:
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 the disease is left untreated, Lymphosarcoma will attack anywhere in the body that it can find lymph tissue. Unfortunately, this means it can attack nearly any organ in the body. The cancer will cause the organ to fail, eventually forcing the dog to loose its appetite, which in turn will cause the dog to become weak and die. Even dogs that undergo treatment may die in this way, as the disease can eventually become resistant to medication and progress.
Chemotherapy is the best weapon against Lymphosarcoma, although which medications exactly will depend on the stage of cancer and how the dog responds to treatment. Contrary to popular belief, most dogs will not vomit or loose their coats during treatment. It is impossible to predict how any dog will respond to therapy, but the best way forward is to work as a team with the veterinarian to give the dog the best quality of life possible.