Pet Cancer Awareness Month: lymphoma in cats
In a previous blog for Pet Cancer Awareness Month, we discussed multicentric lymphoma in dogs. In dogs, lymphoma is widespread throughout the lymph nodes. Cats, however, tend to get lymphoma at a specific site, and today the most common site for lymphoma is in the intestines.
This was not always the case. Before the widespread use of the feline leukemia vaccine, lymphoma was found in the mediastinal area of the chest. In those days, most lymphoma was caused by the feline leukemia virus. Today, it’s a different story.
Most cats that are diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma are geriatric cats with a history of vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and decreased appetite. Intestinal lymphoma can show up as a solitary mass, or may be generalized throughout the intestines. Solitary masses may grow so large that they cause bowel obstructions. In these cases, immediate surgery may be required to relieve the obstruction.
Intestinal lymphoma is diagnosed by biopsy. Either the mass (in the case of solitary tumors) or a full thickness sample of the intestine (as in the case of generalized intestinal lymphoma) will be sent to a laboratory for microscopic analysis.
In any case, removal of the mass is not curative. Cats with intestinal lymphoma will require chemotherapy to achieve remission, and approximately 75% of cats treated with chemotherapy will achieve remission. As with dogs, cats experience far fewer side effects from chemotherapy than humans. They do not lose their fur (but may lose their whiskers) and generally do not have severe gastrointestinal side effects as we do.
There are several different types of chemotherapy protocols, which you can discuss with your vet in detail. If your veterinarian is not comfortable with this, he or she may refer you to a veterinary oncologist. Either way, it is never wrong to ask for a second opinion.
As with any case regarding the use of chemotherapy, several factors should be considered. The disease-free interval and median survival time should be balanced with other external factors, such as cost and scheduling. Chemotherapy may not be readily available in your town, and may require extensive weekly travel during treatment.
Chemotherapy is a viable option for many owners and their pets, but it is not for everyone. Some patients do not do well with hospitalization, and sadly, sometimes chemotherapy is too costly for owners, especially without pet insurance to provide reimbursement for treatments.
If chemotherapy is not an option for your pet for whatever reason, don’t dwell on feeling bad about it. Your pet needs you to remain upbeat and enjoy her remaining days. Each day is a gift, especially in a terminally ill animal – celebrate your pet’s life with her while you can.