Gastrointestinal Lymphoma in Cats

Gastrointestinal lymphoma in cats is an increasingly common disease that can affect a cat's small intestine, stomach, liver, abdominal lymph nodes or large intestine. Lymphoma is the general term for cancer that originates in the lymphocytes, or white blood cells of the immune system. It is also considered one of the most widespread forms of cancer among cats. Since lymphocytes are found throughout human and animal bodies, lymphoma may develop in a variety of tissues, including those of the gastrointestinal system.

As gastrointestinal (GI) lymphoma progresses, tumors consisting of lymphoid cells often grow in the area most impacted by the cancer. Singular growths called focal tumors may develop in a specific part of the stomach, intestines, or other region the GI system. Another kind of tumor called a diffuse growth can cause a generalized thickening of the overall intestine. Here is additional information that may help owners of cats affected by this gastrointestinal disease make informed decisions on care and treatment.

What Causes Gastrointestinal Lymphoma?

While genetics are believed to be the major cause of GI lymphoma, or lymphosarcoma, the disease is most often found among older and middle-age cats, from around 9 to 13 years of age. Recent studies also indicate that cats with the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) have a greater risk for developing lymphomas, including gastrointestinal forms of the disease. Cats diagnosed with the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) may also be more susceptible to the disease, since they are believed to be more than 60 times more likely to develop various kinds of lymphoma. GI lymphoma is also thought to impact the small intestine more than other parts of the gastrointestinal system

Gastrointestinal Lymphoma Symptoms and Diagnosis

Some of the most common symptoms of feline gastrointestinal lymphoma include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Diagnosing the disease typically begins with owners providing a patient history accompanied by a physical examination by a veterinarian. If GI lymphoma is suspected, additional tests may be required, like:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Abdominal ultrasound or X-rays
  • Serum biochemistry profile
  • Endoscopy of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Biopsy of growths in the GI tract

Based on the information obtained from exams and follow-up tests, an animal medical professional may be able to determine whether the cancer is small cell or lymphocytic, or large cell or lymphoblastic. Small cell, or low grade, forms of the disease are typically considered easier to treat than large cell, or high grade varieties.

Treating Gastrointestinal Lymphoma

Chemotherapy is the most common method of treating gastrointestinal lymphoma. This involves administering specific drugs to try to destroy the cells causing the cancer. Lymphoma is generally regarded as the most responsive of all cancers to chemotherapy. In many cases, a cat with GI lymphoma may receive combinations of different chemotherapy drugs sequentially.

When the disease includes an obstruction, particularly of the intestines, surgery may be required to help improve essential GI function. The procedure may then be followed by chemotherapy to treat additional cancerous cells within the affected area. Typically, the use of chemotherapy drugs may cause unpleasant side effects like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Despite these unwanted effects, the outlook for pets receiving treatment for GI lymphoma, especially small cell forms of the disease, may be positive.