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Lymphoma, sometimes called lymphosarcoma, is disease of lymphoid tissue that results in the spread of malignant tumours through the lymphatic system. Affected areas include lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, and almost every organ in the body. As the intrusion of the cancerous cells intensifies, organs shut down. A cat with lymphoma often loses his or her appetite, vomits or gets diarrhoea, weakens, and eventually dies.
Presentation of the disease is quite general, especially in the early stages, and is difficult to detect. Symptoms vary depending on which organs are affected, although progressive lack of appetite, lethargy, and weight loss are common in most forms. Other symptoms include chronic diarrhoea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing, although all of these may indicate other conditions. The most common form of feline lymphoma is intestinal, although it can begin anywhere and spread throughout the entire body. There are multicentric, mediastinal, and alimentary forms of lymphoma, although tumours spread similarly in all forms.
Cats have a higher incidence of lymphoma than dogs or humans. Genetic disposition is perhaps the strongest factor in developing lymphoma, although environmental exposure to carcinogens plays a role as well. While there is no breed or sex predilection for cats that develop the condition, older cats, in the nine to ten years old range, have a higher incidence of it. In the past, the age range was lower largely due to widespread feline leukaemia which most often presented as mediastinal lymphoma, that is tumours originating in the chest cavity. While lymphoma was strongly associated with Feline Leukemia Virus, appearing co-morbidly in 70 per cent of cases, only 20 per cent of affected cats today also have Feline Leukemia. The feline immunodeficiency virus, FIV, increases a cat's chance of developing lymphoma by sixfold. .
Environmental factors, such as exposure to carcinogens, may also play a role in the development of Leukemia, although there is scant evidence to support this. Some studies show exposure to cigarette smoke may double a cat's risk of developing lymphoma. A long standing theory linking feline lymphoma to inflammatory disease has yet to be proven or disproved.
Chemotherapy is quite common in treatment of feline lymphoma. Around seven per cent of cats undergoing chemotherapy require hospitalisation due to side effects, while the majority can return home. Many times more than one chemotherapy drug is administered. While whiskers may be lost, substantial hair loss is not a usual side effect of chemotherapy in animals. Chemotherapy usually has initially good results, although a cure is unlikely. Cats with the disease generally live about six months. In general, the younger and healthier the cat, the more likely a full recovery. A specialist may be able to provide newer drugs and experimental treatments.
Surgery is sometimes recommended, although this is usually in order remove an immediate, life threatening problem caused by lymphoma. Radiation may also be used in extremely localised sites.
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