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Lymphoma in Cats - Treatment & Symptoms

Lymphoma in Cats - Treatment & Symptoms

Lymphoma is a type of cancer often seen in cats at our Oak Grove vets clinic. It affects specific white blood cells in the cat's body called lymphocytes. Today, we'll cover the types of lymphoma seen in cats, how it's diagnosed, and treatment options. 

What is lymphoma in cats?

Lymphoma is a widespread cancer that affects the lymphocytes of the cat's immune system. These cells move throughout the body in blood and lymph vessels. This condition is associated with the viral infection of feline leukemia.

Thanks to increasing numbers of cats being immunized against feline leukemia as part of the annual wellness and vaccination care, both feline leukemia and lymphoma are becoming less common. Right now, lymphoma makes up around 30% of all cat cancers. 

Where is lymphoma typically found in cats?

Lymphocytes are found all over a cat's body, so lymphoma can develop in various organs.

Common places for the disease include the cat's nose, gut, or genital area. Your cat's lymphoma will be classified based on the location of the disease and the size of the lymphocytes (either small or large cells)

  • Intestinal lymphoma is the most common form of lymphoma in cats. This cancer is found in the GI tract and is most often seen in cats over 9 years of age.
  • Mediastinal lymphoma affects the lymphoid organs found within the cat's chest. These organs include the lymph nodes and the thymus. Strongly associated with feline leukemia, this form of lymphoma is typically seen in cats around 5 years of age.
  • Renal lymphoma is also associated with feline leukemia. Renal lymphoma affects the cat's kidneys and may result in kidney failure.

What are the most common symptoms of lymphoma in cats?

Your cat's lymphoma symptoms will depend upon where the cancer is situated 

  • A cat with intestinal lymphoma will often experience diarrhea, weight loss, and vomiting. In cats with large-cell intestinal lymphoma, these symptoms can come on very rapidly, in a matter of just days or weeks, whereas cats with the small-cell version of the disease will show a much slower onset of symptoms.
  • Because mediastinal lymphoma is found in the cat's chest area, breathing difficulties are a common symptom of the disease. In some cases, fluid can build up around the tumor, making it increasingly difficult for the cat to breathe.
  • As toxins build up in the blood system, cats with renal lymphoma will show common symptoms related to kidney failure, including vomiting, reduced appetite, and increased thirst. In some cases, the cat's central nervous system may be affected, in which case symptoms such as seizures, instability while walking, and behavior changes may occur.

How is lymphoma in cats diagnosed?

Depending on its extent and location, fine needle aspiration cytology or biopsy is used. 

In some cases, vets may require sampling of bone marrow or other organs or molecular testing on tissues or blood in order to provide a definitive diagnosis of lymphoma.

Diagnostics may also include:

  • Bloodwork such as CBC (Complete Blood Count) and full chemistry panel
  • Testing for feline leukemia FeLV/FIV
  • Urinalysis
  • Ultrasound imaging to evaluate the cat's GI tract, spleen, liver, and lymph nodes
  • X-rays to evaluate lungs and lymph nodes

What is the treatment for lymphoma in cats?

When cats are diagnosed with lymphoma, chemotherapy is the primary treatment. In some cases, radiation can also be an option, or surgery (with or without chemo) may be recommended if the lymphoma is confined to a single area, such as the cat's nasal area or abdomen. 

Your veterinarian or veterinary oncologist will be able to recommend the best treatment for your pet based on their specific condition.

If chemotherapy isn't an option, your cat might be given prednisone for comfort. 

What is the prognosis for cats diagnosed with lymphoma?

For cats with large cell lymphoma in the gut, treatment can lead to about 6 - 9 months. A small percentage of cats that reach full remission with treatment can live up to 2 years, although this is rare.

Cats with small cell lymphoma in the gut might need ongoing treatment with pills but could live 2 - 3 years with or even longer.

Sadly, cats with lymphoma in the chest area or feline leukemia typically only survive around 3 months.

Cats that do not have feline leukemia, who are diagnosed with mediastinal lymphoma, may show a full or partial response to chemotherapy. These cats have an average survival time of about 9-12 months.

Renal lymphoma, unfortunately, carries a very poor prognosis. Average survival with this type of lymphoma is only 3-6 months, though there are isolated reports of cats surviving far longer. Renal lymphoma has a tendency to spread to the brain and central nervous system; this occurs in approximately 40% of renal lymphoma cases and worsens the prognosis for this disease.

Without chemotherapy, large cell lymphoma in cast processes fast and is flat. Some treatments might extend a cat's life by a few weeks or months. 

    Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

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