Lymphosarcoma (lymphoma) is a cancer of lymphocytes (a type of blood cell) and lymphoid tissues. Lymphoid tissue is normally present in many places in the body including lymph nodes, spleen, liver, gastrointestinal tract and bone marrow. The average dog with lymphosarcoma is between 6-9 years although dogs of any age can be affected. Males and females are equally at risk. Lymphosarcoma can be divided up into 5 different forms which depend upon the primary (predominant) site of the tumor.
External lymph nodes: The most common form is involvement of one or more of the external lymph nodes. Some dogs may not feel sick or may have only very mild signs such as tiredness or decreased appetite. Other dogs may have more severe signs such as weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst or urination, weakness or difficulty breathing. The severity of the signs depends upon the extent of the tumor and on whether the cancer has caused changes in organ function. In many cases, the only noticeable sign is an enlargement of the lymph nodes under the neck, behind the knees or in front of the shoulders. Other organs, such as the liver, spleen and bone marrow can be involved as well.
Gastrointestinal tract: A second form is involvement of the gastrointestinal tract. Dogs with this type of lymphosarcoma may have vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss or a decreased appetite.
Mediastinal: The mediastinum is a term used for a special aggregation of lymphoid tissue in the chest. Dogs with this type of lymphosarcoma often are seen because of difficulty breathing or excessive urination/thirst.
Skin: Lymphosarcoma can also start in the skin. This is known as cutaneous lymphosarcoma. Dogs with cutaneous lymphosarcoma can have flaky, scaly, reddened skin and be itchy. They may also have lumps in the skin, which can ulcerate and cause discomfort. The footpads and gums can also be involved. Other organs such as lymph nodes, liver spleen and bone marrow are variably involved.
Bone marrow: If the cancer were confined to the bone marrow, we would call this leukemia. The signs that we see in dogs are usually related to decreased numbers of normal cells (such as red blood cells which carry oxygen, white blood cells that fight infection and platelets that help with clotting) which are made in the bone marrow. Anemia, infections and bleeding are common problems.
Mammary tumors in bulldogs are most frequent in intact bitches; they are extremely rare in male bulldogs. Ovariectomy before the first estrus reduces the risk of mammary neoplasia to 0.5% of the risk in intact bitches; ovariectomy after 1 estrus reduces the risk to 8% of that in intact bitches. Bitches neutered after maturity have generally been considered to have the same risk as intact bitches. However, questions remain regarding the impact of ovariohysterectomy at the time of tumor excision. Questions also remain about the timing of such surgery relative to survival. In one study, bulldogs spayed <2 yr prior to tumor excision lived 45% longer than either intact bulldogs or those spayed >2 yr prior to tumor excision. The 2 posterior mammary glands are involved more often than the 3 anterior glands. Grossly, tumors appear as single or multiple nodules (1-25 cm) in 1 or more glands. The cut surface is usually lobulated, gray-tan, and firm, often with fluid-filled cysts. Mixed mammary tumors may contain grossly recognizable bone or cartilage on the cut surface. More than 50% of canine mammary tumors are benign mixed tumors; a smaller percentage of malignant mixed tumors are seen. In the latter, epithelial or mesenchymal components, either singly or in combination, may produce metastases. Histologically, canine mammary gland tumors have been classified by the World Health Organization as carcinomas (with 6 types and additional subtypes), sarcomas (4 types), carcinosarcomas (mixed mammary tumors), or benign adenomas. This classification scheme is based on the extent of the tumor, involvement of lymph nodes, and presence of metastatic lesions (TNM system); it includes unclassified tumors and apparently benign dysplasias.
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