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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

What Makes Canine Lymphoma Different?

Updated: November 14th, 2018

Canine lymphoma, also called lymphosarcoma, is a strange cancer.  Not that cancer is not strange in general, because it is.  But lympho is different.

This cancer involves a certain type of white blood cell, the lymphocyte.  Most have heard that white blood cells are an important part of the immune system.  It turns out there is more to the story.

White blood cells are involved not only in protecting the body from microbes, but also in wound healing, foreign material removal, and cancer cell surveillance.

So what makes lympho different?  Well, the cancer cells in this case are deranged white blood cells, usually grouped into T or B lymphocytes.  These white blood cells have certain mutations in their DNA that allows them to outlive their usual lifespan.

At the end of a cell’s life, or if it gets damaged, infected or somehow deranged, there are genes in the DNA that should turn on.  These genes start the signal for an amazing process called apoptosis.

Apoptosis is the normal end-of-life stage where a cell says, “Well, I’m not doing the body any good anymore,” and quietly, peacefully, dismantles itself.

Cancer cells have mutations that block the normal process of apoptosis.

Anyway, often what happens is the cancer cells continue to life and divide, creating tumors.  One can have tumors in almost any organ.  Many have heart of phrases like “pancreatic cancer” or “brain cancer”.  In cases like this, there is usually one or more tumor in the organ.

Sometimes the first tumor will send off other cells to distant sites, far away from the body.  The cells leave the tumor, go into the circulation, and set up shop elsewhere.  This is called metastasis.

What makes lympho different is that this cancer starts in the circulation.  Since these are basically white blood cells without normal apoptosis, they are already there.  There is no metastasis per se.

Why does this matter?  With lympho,  there is usually no primary tumor in some organ.  This means that the number one weapon we have, surgery, is usually not useful with this cancer.  This is very different from some cancers, where surgical removal might be able to cure the cancer, assuming no metastasis.

If there is a silver lining, and I will admit it is maybe closer to a grayish lining, it is this:  lympho has the highest chemotherapy success rates of any cancer. More respond, and more live longer, than any other cancer treated by conventional therapy.

If you would like to learn more about ways to get a leading edge on canine lymphosarcoma, you will be interested in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

All my best,

Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Samantha on October 9, 2019 at 11:52 am

    Our boy Blue, an 8yr old Golden, was diagnosed with “epitheliotropic small cell intestinal T cell lymphoma, associated with & presumably arising from a background of chronic enteritis.” It seems to be reported more in cats than dogs so not a lot of guidance online for care, which is frustrating. Wondering….1) Are there any posts on this blog (or in your book) about this type of cancer and treatment/diet, etc. (I couldn’t find). 2) Oncologist has Blue on 20mg Prednisone + 4mg Chlorambucil every AM, and 60mg Cerenia every PM. Biggest challenge is night time panting + lack of sleep. He starts panting (only at night), doesn’t stop for hours until passing out from exhaustion around 6am. Since he’s up the majority of the nite he’s exhausted all day. We’ve tried Gabapentin, Tramadol, Trazodone, CBD/THC, to no avail. Any thoughts on what else we might try? We’ve thought about giving him Pred at night, but read it’s best to give in AM due to hormonal cycle. Not sure if that’s been proven? Note, Blue has an appetite (thankfully), so maintaining weight but losing muscle mass, which is rough bc he’s also had a Total Hip Replacement as a puppy and then a Total Hip Replacement Revision when it failed a few years later. So we need to maintain muscle to keep him active (currently he’ll swim 20 mins but can’t walk for more than 10 mins at a time) and out of significant pain. THANK YOU in advance for your time and for the amazing work you are doing, particularly in sharing so much wisdom with your readers.

    • Molly Jacobson on October 14, 2019 at 10:03 am

      Aloha Samantha, thanks for your questions. The chapter on lymphoma in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide will apply to your dog’s case, I would think. But the overall thrust of Dr. D’s work is that ALL cancers share SIX hallmarks — no matter what type of cell they are located in. So his approach is to work to support the body in fighting those six hallmarks, rather than trying to find the “one thing” that will apply to each and every individual case. Cancer is a complex illness that attacks the body on six fronts, so it is unlikely that we will ever find the one right strategy for each type and location of cancer. So supporting the natural work of the apoptosis genes (which kill cells when they get too old, deranged, or damaged), the immune system (which cancer deliberately suppresses), etc. are the focuses. The chapter on lymphoma and how it is treated with chemo is specific to lymphoma, but it only describes the first step in his approach. There are four other steps to take, as well.

      Meanwhile, I’m not a veterinarian, so I can’t guess as to what else to try with your pup to manage sleeping and pain, but this post will help with the latest thinking on pain meds: In general, my understanding is that panting and restlessness at night is a common sign of pain or discomfort. Prednisone also caused one of my dogs to pant when she was on it. It’s a common drug to use with lymphoma, so this might be one of those times when you need to really bring this quality of life issue up with your veterinarian. One of the most important focuses in Dr. D’s work is to make sure we do everything we can for life quality, no matter what other strategies we are trying. A happy dog is much better able to fight cancer. Don’t change any meds without checking with your veterinarian, but there might be something to add or modify that will help him (and you!) to get some much-needed rest.

  2. Kate on December 19, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Dear. Dr Dressler. My border collie has lymphoma, not multicentric but intestinal. there is a large tumour beside her intestines, I saw the photo and it is bigger than the vets hand. So the prognosis is not good. We are not doing chemo and I am doing all I can to help prolong her life and slow down the cancer. She is well and happy but this is a scary situation.
    Your book has helped me hugely. And I read all the posts. I have changed her diet and am making her life as good as can be. I have moved out of town to be in the country for a while (she is a country dog as I am a country girl) and am teaching her new tricks to keep her stimulated.
    My question is this- could the Apocaps be giving her diarrhoea? she keeps having very loose stools which stop when I stop the pills. She has had them (plus K9 Immunity) for two weeks but her tummy is often upset.

    It could be the progression of the cancer but could it be the pills?
    And if some cancer cells are dying could they cause diarrhoea as the body cleanses?

    I know I may be grasping at straws here but I wonder if you have known this to happen.

    Thanks for all your work and your clear intelligent kind approach.

    • Susan Kazara Harper on December 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      Hi Kate, It’s Susan here to answer your question. Apocaps are all natural, plant-based ingredients, and just like anything else that your lovely dog eats, including any changes to her diet, they may cause stomach upset. As could K-9 Immunity or some of the ingredients in her food. Her body is doing a balancing act so things can change along the way. If you suspect it is the Apocaps, and it sounds like you’ve observed a change when you’ve withheld Apocaps, you have some options. First, if you haven’t already, really chart out what she is eating, including supplements and any medicines when she has the loose stools. If you stop one of the ingredients and the stools improve, it’s a pretty good indicator. So let’s say you confirm Apocaps are causing loose stools. You have the option to give her a lower dose of Apocaps than the max dose indicated on the label. If you stop Apocaps completely for a couple of days and her stools firm up, try then to introduce perhaps one capsule, 2 times a day. Observe the reaction. Work up on the dose if you feel confident, and see what her ideal dose is. A smaller amount of Apocaps is absolutely fine, and will still do a lot of good. I’m glad the book and the diet are helping. There is so much information in the book; pages 168 and 170 are very helpful for planning when to give the supplements. And you have made a big move to get you both to a place where there is less stress and more freedom and play. Well done Kate! Every day counts. All the best to you both.

  3. Gina on December 13, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    My dog started chemo for lymphoma and improved almost immediately, He was happy and energetic and his coat improved and his lymph nodes went down. After ten weeks my vet called me and said that the chemo isn’t working. We never worried about staging because I was going to try and save him no matter what. And I thought almost everyone gets at least one remission, Why isn’t my dog?’t chemo helping my dog? What else can we do? His nodes in his neck are so big he pants all the time but otherwise seems okay, good energy and appetite. I’d do anything to help him.

  4. Rhonda on March 5, 2010 at 3:29 am

    Our dog, Bruno has lymphoma. In October 2009, We treated him with Chemo and he went into remission very quickly, however this only lasted 3 months. We decided not to try another chemo drug as the vet said he had less chance the second time around of going into remission and is likely to come out of remission even quicker. We have him on your cancer diet and some of the medication you suggest in your book. (Curcumin, Lutimax, parsley, and EGCG). He is also on pregnisone. At this point he is doing quite well, but has very swollen lumps in his neck and chest and breathes heavy. It has been great having something to work hard at to try and help him, so thankyou for all the advice. I did have a couple of questions – could I feed our other dog the cancer diet? and can I give Bruno more than one of the above at a time? I have been rotating one at a time every 10 – 14 days.

    • Dr. Dressler on March 9, 2010 at 10:48 am

      Dear Rhonda,
      Well, for healthy dogs, I will often use a human-grade commercial, natural dog food as a base (about half- one good brand is Halo) and then supplement the other half with the dog cancer diet. Please be sure to consult with your vet on any steps taken for your dog. Remember to mix it in very slowly over 14 days (the combination with the previous food) and monitor for vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and so on…
      Good luck. By the way, now that the supplement I use is available, and it has in it the best of what you are giving, you could use that as a single combination approach to help maintain normal apoptosis levels in Bruno’s body as apposed to the rotation idea which was good for independent supplements. Check it out if you like.
      Best of luck and sending my best for Bruno (and for you),
      Dr D

  5. Lexi on March 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    I love your newsletters. Always informative and in a language the layman can understand. I just regret not having found you sooner. Last week I ordered the survival guide for my girlfriend’s English Bulldog with Acute Aplastic Leukemia. It was just too late. On Monday she left us to travel to the Rainbow Bridge.

    • Dr. Dressler on March 8, 2010 at 4:18 pm

      Dear Lexi,
      I am very sorry to hear this news. Often we get the diagnosis of canine cancer very late, as hard as it is to accept.
      I hope your girlfriend is hanging in there. There are some good techniques in the Guide that can help with sadness that she might like. If you need to return the Guide, please contact the publisher. Be well,
      Dr D

  6. Maureen on March 4, 2010 at 7:43 am

    Can you explain what squamous cell carcinoma is
    on a dogs toe and does amputation have to follow?

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