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Feline Lymphoma

cat-649164_1280What is it?
Lymphoma (LSA, Lymphosarcoma) is one of the most common types of cancer affecting cats. It is a proliferation of lymphoid cells that can affect a variety of organs in the body. Currently alimentary (intestinal) lymphoma is most common, but the disease can also extend to or involve the liver, spleen, lymph nodes, kidney, chest, bone marrow, nose, eye and central nervous system. It can occur as microscopic disease, or as a discrete mass.

How do I know my cat has it?
Cats with lymphoma generally show vague signs of illness. Weight loss, lethargy, and lack of appetite are common symptoms. Depending on the body system involved, vomiting, diarrhea and trouble breathing may also be seen. Because these signs are similar to those seen with many other feline illnesses, diagnosis can only be made based on a complete exam and appropriate diagnostic tests. Testing may include bloodwork, urinalysis, x-ray, ultrasound, needle aspirate or biopsy. These diagnostics help to “stage” the disease and determine prognosis and the appropriate type of treatment.

What treatment is available?
Combination chemotherapy is the most common form of treatment for feline lymphoma. In some cases where the cancer is localized, surgery or radiation may be indicated before chemotherapy is started. The particular protocol used depends on the location and stage of the disease, as well as the nature of the patient. Chemotherapy generally is administered on a regular schedule as a combination of intravenous, subcutaneous and/or oral medications. Regular bloodwork and physical exams are necessary to monitor progress.

Because quality of life is the most important consideration for cancer patients, chemotherapy is not as intensive as it is in human medicine. Side effects from chemotherapy tend to be minimal. Transient nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite may occur immediately after a dose is given. Bone marrow suppression (low white blood cells, anemia) may occur approximately a week after a dose is given.

What outcome can I expect?
Without treatment, some feline lymphoma patients have only weeks to live, and other may be stable for longer. In contrast, most patients respond well to treatment, at least initially. The goal of treatment is not cure, but rather long term remission. Response varies depending on location and stage of disease. Median survival time for all types of lymphoma is approximately 6 months, but some cats are capable of living several years with good quality of life.