Lymphoma is a cancer that can affect any breed of dog, but there are certain breeds that have a high predisposition to this disease. Border Collies, Boxers, Bullmastiffs, Cocker Spaniel, Golden Retriever and there are more.
The disease itself is usually first noticed as a lump or lumps located primarily in 3 obvious locations. The neck near where the jaw meets the neck, in front of the shoulder and at the back of the rear legs just above the hock. These three areas have lymph glands close to the surface of the skin. When a dog contracts Lymphoma, it grows inside the glands and they become enlarged. Depending on the location of the lymph node that is affected (and not all lymph glands may be affected) and the length of time the dog has had the disease, the size of the glands can vary. They can be less than a squash ball size to as big as an orange. Although these lumps are visible, your dog will most probably be quite well in itself and be eating and playing normally.
The swollen glands themselves are not painful although many owners of affected dogs will find them distressing to see. The only time the affected glands might cause discomfort are if the internal glands are affected. These can swell and put pressure on other organs causing difficulty in swallowing if the internal neck glands are very swollen.
Lymphoma is a rapidly-growing malignancy in most, but not all dogs. It is able to go and grow anywhere in the body. Eventually, the cancer will infiltrate an organ to such an extent that the organ fails. Often this is the bone marrow or the liver.
The only proven treatments for lymphoma are medications – chemotherapy. There are many effective drugs for this disease. Many owners want a reassurance of a cure, however although theoretically a cure may be obtained, practically speaking this is not the norm and most dogs will relapse at some point and no further treatment will work. It is best to focus on a realistic outcome which is the longest possible survival with a good quality of life.
Prednisolone is often used as a form of chemotherapy. It is a tablet and can and usually does reduce the swelling in the lymph glands. But this is just a temporary fix, as the cancer becomes resistant to it in most dogs within 2-3 weeks. Like with all treatments there are side effects to this drug and you need to discuss these side effects with your veterinarian or oncologist.
Untreated a dog may have a survival time of between 2 to 3 months. With treatment your dog may get 12 to 24 months though about 1 in 4 dogs will live for longer. You do need to keep in mind that treatment for any cancers is not cheap and there are no guarantees on the outcome, especially with Lymphoma. As the owner you have to weigh up all the pros and cons before making your final decision. Your veterinarian or specialist oncologist will be able to help with information but ultimately the decision on the course of treatment is up to you.
**Accuracy checked 19 June 2013,
Dr Ken Wyatt BSc BVMS FANZCVS,
Registered Specialist in Veterinary Oncology,
Perth Veterinary Oncology
Other reliable and more detailed information on Lymphoma
My Friend: Changing The Journey
See the award winning documentary on canine lymphoma.
Perth hosted the Australian pemiere of this film. You will also hear from world veterinary oncologists Dr Ken Wyatt, Dr Sue Ettinger and Dr Greg Ogilivie Here