Lymphoma in Cats: Become an Expert

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Lymphoma in Cats

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What is Lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancerous tumor of a specific type of white blood cell (lymphocyte). Lymphocytes are involved in the immune system of your cat – dealing specifically with immune responses.

This specific type of white blood cell is transported around in the bloodstream, ready to respond to pathological attacks on the body. In addition to this, lymphocytes can also be found in the lymph nodes, as well as within most tissues and other areas of the body that are part of the lymph system.

Lymphoma occurs when the lymphocytes become mutated (DNA programming changes). This causes them to multiply rapidly, no longer serving their original purpose, forming into a cancerous tumor. This form of tumor is the most common form of cancer in cats – who are the biggest sufferers of lymphoma. Once these mutated cells are present, they can invade and conquer remaining healthy tissues, leading to the spreading of tumorous cancer.

Because lymphocytes are commonly found in a large number of places within the bodies of the cats, it means that lymphoma is not restricted as to where it can develop. However, some areas are more commonly affected than others, which has led to different classifications of lymphoma (based on the tissues affected). These are listed below:

  • Alimentary lymphoma – this affects the stomach and intestines (digestive system), either individually or simultaneously
  • Mediastinal lymphoma – this affects the lymphoid tissue in the chest cavity (thymus or lungs or lymph nodes)
  • Multicentric/nodal lymphoma – affecting numerous lymph nodes and potentially multiple other sites (tissues) in the body (e.g., pancreas and liver)
  • Extranodal/miscellaneous lymphoma – these are diverse cases of lymphoma that develop in places dissimilar to those above (e.g., kidneys and brain)

What are the Causes of Lymphoma in Cats?

In the first section, we learnt that lymphoma is a cancerous tumor that can affect multiple sites within the body of a cat. Now, we seek to understand the cause of lymphoma in cats.

Lymphoma in cats has been acknowledged for many years now, with research present in the 1960’s and beyond, but there is yet to be an apparent understanding of the illness.

Despite this, it seems that cats who are infected by Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) are more likely to be associated with cases of lymphoma. What we can draw from this is that it is linked with immune system health.

As well as this, recent studies have suggested that cats continuously exposed to cigarette smoke are more at risk for developing gastrointestinal lymphoma (see American Journal of Epidemiology)

Generally, elderly cats are more at risk as their bodies begin to become weaker and less able to fight off diseases.

What are the Symptoms of Lymphoma in Cats?

The symptoms of lymphoma in cats depends upon which classification of lymphoma the cat is dealing with. We have outlined below the different symptoms that are common within the different types of classification discussed above:

Alimentary lymphoma (digestive system)

  • Black colored stools
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Presence of blood in stools
  • Severe weight loss (anorexia)
  • Vomiting

Mediastinal lymphoma (tissues around chest: thymus, lungs, lymph nodes)

  • Coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Breathing with the mouth open
  • Severe weight loss

Multicentric lymphoma (lymph nodes and other areas such as pancreas or liver)

  • Depression/severe lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes (jaw, groin, under arms)

Extranodal/miscellaneous lymphoma (brain, kidneys, nose)

  • Increased levels of thirst and urination (associated with kidneys)
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Disorientation (associated with brain)

How is Lymphoma in Cats Diagnosed?

There are multiple steps to diagnosing lymphoma in cats. We have outlined some steps below:

  1. Provide your local veterinary expert with a complete medical history of your cat
  2. The veterinary expert will be able to make potential connections to previous illnesses that may have led to lymphoma (specific organs that are being affected)
  3. Next, a routine physical examination will be completed (looking for physical abnormalities)
  4. After this, as with all illness diagnoses, standard tests will be taken (blood count, biochemistry profile and urinalysis)
  5. The results from these tests may point to specific conditions (e.g. anemia or lymphoblastosis)

Lymphoblastosis – this condition is defined by an uncharacteristically high number of lymphoblasts in the peripheral blood. Lymphoblasts are the immature form of lymphocytes. They are usually present in the bone marrow, but if clinical tests show signs of lymphoblasts in the peripheral blood, then this indicates a threatening condition – lymphoblastosis. – which results in leukemia.

  1. Tests will also be done to detect the presence of viruses such as feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  2. Radiography (X-rays) will be used to closely inspect or discover the infected areas of the body
  3. Biopsy (sample) of bone marrow will lead to more accurate final diagnosis measurements

How is Lymphoma in Cats Treated?

Since lymphoma is a cancerous tumor, there is no form of antibiotics available to cure the illness – even surgery isn’t usually recommended when treating lymphoma.

The two most common forms of treatment for lymphoma in cats are:

  1. Chemotherapy
  2. Radiotherapy

This is because by the time lymphoma is diagnosed, it has usually spread far and white around the body. The symptoms of this disease are not obvious from the get-go. Instead, they slowly accumulate over time.

With that being said, the earlier stages of lymphoma have high success rates for being treated. Early detection of lymphoma may happen when clinical blood count or blood profile tests are being run on your cat. For this reason, you should always keep on top of your cats’ health and remember to attend those scheduled medical check-ups.

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