Feline intestinal lymphoma is one of the most common gastrointestinal cancers seen in senior cats. It is difficult to identify because it can mimic other diseases and intestinal conditions.
There are two types of intestinal lymphomas: small cell or low grade and large cell or high grade. Small cell is slow-growing cancer that causes inflammation and disrupts function anywhere along the digestive tract. Large cell can cause the same inflammatory response and also disrupt function, but its faster growing and large tumours can form. Both these forms of lymphoma can affect associated intestinal lymph nodes. A variation of signs and symptoms can be seen depending on the location of the lymphoma and degree of the disease. Some of the signs are vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, and change in appetite.
Unfortunately, diagnosing it can be tricky. Lymphoma acts very similar to IBD and symptoms can present the same. A thorough physical exam by a veterinarian is a good start and diagnostic testing such as blood work, radiographs and ultrasound are usually necessary for an accurate diagnosis. Surgical biopsies are one of the best diagnostic tools to decipher between IBD and lymphoma and can distinguish between high grade or low-grade lymphoma which is important for treatment.
Once a diagnosis is confirmed your veterinarian can design a specific treatment plan. Large cell and small cell lymphomas are treated differently, and the advancement of the disease needs to be considered. Oral Chemotherapy and steroids are a common choice and usually well tolerated in cats. Small cell lymphoma responds very well to treatment and survival times can be months to years. Large cell lymphoma responds poorly and typical survival time in most cases is only a few months. You and your veterinarian should discuss all options and set up a plan that’s right for you and your cats’ needs
Written by: Melissa Cullen, RVT