What is Lymphoma and Lymphosarcoma?

Lymphoma and lymphosarcoma are the most common types of cancer in the parrot family as well as passerine birds, which make up over half the bird species. Canaries are also commonly affected. The liver, spleen, gastrointestinal tract, bone, skin, and other common body areas are affected by lymphoma, and the most affected organ is the liver. The lesions of this type of cancer are yellow and grayish in color and may look like a typical inflammation until the bird begins showing more severe symptoms, which prompts a veterinary visit.

Uncontrollable, abnormal, and rapid growth of cells that occur in any organ or tissue is cancer. This disease is a type of neoplasia, and neoplasia is classified according to specific characteristics such as the affected tissues, specific types of cells, whether it is malignant or benign. This type of cancer is also reported in poultry, and is known to affect many different organs in this bird type as well.

Lymphoma and lymphosarcoma in birds are types of cancer that occur in parrots and other specific breeds. It can affect many different organs, and must be treated by a veterinarian specializing in oncology.

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Symptoms of Lymphoma and Lymphosarcoma in Birds

Symptoms of lymphoma and lymphosarcoma depend on the organ affected. Symptoms may include:

  • Distention
  • Blindness
  • Weight Loss
  • Anorexia
  • Lameness
  • Regurgitation
  • Dyspnea
  • Paresis
  • Lethargy
  • Malaise

Causes of Lymphoma and Lymphosarcoma in Birds

Cancer is still being studied and researched in humans as well as animals. Known causes of cancer include environmental factors and genetics. Also in birds, some cancers are related to certain viral infections. Causes include:

  • Damage to the bird’s DNA
  • Cells grow and divide according to the damaged, or mutation, of the DNA
  • Malignant cells grow very rapidly
  • Tumors are formed by impacted and damaged cells
  • Tumors halt normal functionality of the organs

Diagnosis of Lymphoma and Lymphosarcoma in Birds

If you suspect your bird has this type of cancer, or if you see your bird is experiencing the symptoms of concern, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will do an observation and physical examination of your bird and ask you questions about his symptoms, such as when you noticed them and the severity. Your veterinarian will take all symptoms into account and may possibly be able to come to a preliminary diagnosis before taking the next step of doing laboratory testing.

The complete blood count test may reveal anemia and leukocytosis, which is an increase in white blood cell count, or lymphocytosis, which is an increase in lymphocytes. The complete blood count test will aid the veterinarian in determining his next step in diagnosing your bird.

The veterinarian will perform blood work and initial laboratory testing. He will also conduct radiographs, and ultrasound, or a CT scan. Your veterinarian will also take a look at the lesion and perform a fine-needle aspirate of the bone marrow, the mass, or the affected organ. The sample will be sent off for a biopsy.

Treatment of Lymphoma and Lymphosarcoma in Birds

Your veterinarian will determine the best mode of treatment for your bird. There are effective treatments that can fight this type of cancer. Treatment methods may include:

Surgery

Surgical excision of the tumor may be recommended by your veterinarian. Removal of the tumor may or may not be followed by a chemotherapy regimen. 

Chemotherapy

There are several types of chemotherapy treatments that may help your bird’s condition. The type of chemotherapy your bird will require depends on what the veterinarian feels will be the most effective, as every bird is different and every stage of cancer is unique. He may prescribe doxorubicin, I-asparaginase, chlorambucil, cyclophosphamide, or another type of chemotherapy medication.

Other Medications

Other medications may be combined with chemotherapy, such as radiation, corticosteroids, a-interferon, and anti-allergy medications such as diphenhydramine or dexamethasone. Veterinarians also may consider using the same types of medications for birds as canines use for this type of cancer in addition to chemotherapy.

Recovery of Lymphoma and Lymphosarcoma in Birds

Success of treatment is variable and prognosis is guarded. This solely depends on your bird’s condition and the severity of the cancer. Some birds have a high-tolerance for chemotherapy and are successful with the treatments, and others have marked side-effects from the chemotherapy.

Radiation may cause the bird to be resistant to this type of treatment, therefore chemotherapy with surgical excision is usually the most reliable method of treatment. Even though chemotherapy is an option in treatment, it may not be effective; it depends on the bird. Research on the absolute effectiveness of chemotherapy is still being conducted.