Gastrointestinal Lymphoma in Cats

Gastrointestinal lymphoma in cats is a form of alimentary cancer which occurs in the intestinal tract of a cat. It is perhaps one of the most common types of all cancer associated with cats. This particular type of cancer is known for more frequently affecting cats with the feline infectious virus (FeLV) because the immune system is already compromised. Gastrointestinal lymphoma is treatable, but early detection and a successful plan of treatment is a large part of determining the prognosis for this cancer.

How Lymphoma Develops

A gastrointestinal lymphoma tumor is made up of lymphoid tissue. This type of tissue is found at various different points throughout the body. When a tumor of this nature develops, it then has the ability to attach itself to any lymph tissue that can be found in the body. This is eventually what causes the tumor to attach to the various organs of the body.

After the tumor has found a central location of the body, it will attach itself and thus begin the progression of abnormal cell growth. When the tumor attaches itself to the digestive tract, this is recognized as gastrointestinal lymphoma.

Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Lymphoma

Gastrointestinal lymphoma typically presents with some very pronounced symptoms and they will be very characteristic of the area affected by the cancer. The following symptoms are most commonly associated with this cancer:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Persistent diarrhea and vomiting
  • Pain in the abdominal area
  • Swelling of the abdominal area
  • Neglected coat care
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Significant weight loss

Diagnosing the Condition

The first step in diagnosis is a physical examination. Upon gentle palpitation of the abdomen, the abnormal growth of a tumor will be felt. This will prompt further evaluation from x-rays and possibly ultrasound. The x-rays will confirm the exact location and size of the tumor. Although it cannot detect whether the tumor is malignant or benign, it will let the veterinarian know where the tumor is so that it can be biopsied.

The next step in the diagnostic process is the biopsy of the tumor. A simple needle injection, usually done under general anesthesia, will allow some of the cell tissue to be taken from the tumor and evaluated. After the evaluation is complete and the tumor is determined to be malignant, an accurate diagnosis of gastrointestinal lymphoma can be made.

Treatment and Prognosis

There are two treatment options for gastrointestinal lymphoma: chemotherapy and surgery. Surgery is usually not a viable option for this cancer. If the tumor is relatively easy to get to and does not immediately interfere with any of the surrounding organs, surgery can be attempted. However, this is usually not the case with gastrointestinal lymphoma and thus, chemotherapy is more commonly used to treat it.

Chemotherapy usually works very well in the treatment of this cancer. The true prognosis of a cat with this condition is determined by several factors; such as when the condition was detected, how large the tumor is and whether or not the cat tests positive for FeLV. Cats with FeLV consistently have lower rates of recovery from gastrointestinal lymphoma. However, when the cancer is detected early on and there is no history of FeLV, chemotherapy can sometimes increase the life span of a cat by two years or more.