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. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.