What are Immune System Tumors?
Lymphoma can affect any cat, however cats with weakened immune systems, feline leukemia virus, or feline immunodeficiency virus are at higher risk. Lymphoma is often treatable, but can be fatal if left untreated for a long period of time. To increase your cat’s chances of surviving, it’s imperative you take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as you spot symptoms of lymphoma.
Lymphocytes are the cells within lymph nodes, which are part of your cat’s immune system. These cells have the important duty of helping your cat fight off infections and diseases. When these cells begin to grow abnormally, lymphoma, or immune system tumors, form. Unfortunately, lymphoma can affect a number of areas of your cat’s body, including the internal organs, digestive tract, chest, spine, and nasal cavity. Cat owners may begin to see swelling or enlarged lymph nodes on their cat’s body combined with loss of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue.
Symptoms of Immune System Tumors in Cats
Lymph tissue and lymphocytes are found throughout the cat’s body, so immune system tumors may begin to develop anywhere on the cat. The most common areas include the organs, digestive system, spine, nasal cavity, or chest. Some of the symptoms you may notice include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Nasal discharge
- Swelling around the affected area
Causes of Immune System Tumors in Cats
Lymphoma is a form of cancer that develops when immune system cells begin growing out of control. Lymphocytes grow to help the body fight off infections, but when they begin to grow abnormally, tumors may form. Like most cancers, the causes could be genetic or environmental, but there is no definite answer to what causes lymphoma. Any cat could develop lymphoma, however, those with feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus are more at risk.
Diagnosis of Immune System Tumors in Cats
It’s recommended you bring your cat to a veterinarian if you spot any of the symptoms of immune system tumors. Discuss the symptoms you have observed with the vet and try to remember when you first began to notice them. If you have noticed any enlarged lumps or swelling on your cat’s body, make sure you mention this to the vet.
The vet will begin by conducting a physical examination, which should help him identify areas with masses. He will also perform complete blood count, urinalysis, and blood chemistry profile tests to take a better look at the condition of the organs. He may also test for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus.
Lumps that have been identified on your cat’s body will need to be tested as well using fine needle aspirates or biopsies. These tests will help the vet determine whether your cat has lymphoma or not. If cancer is detected, the vet will need to perform additional X-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans to see if and to what extent the cancer has spread.
Treatment of Immune System Tumors in Cats
Lymphoma will need to be aggressively treated to prevent the cancer from spreading further than it already has. The vet will most likely recommend chemotherapy treatment for your cat. Although most cancers are treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, chemotherapy is usually used on its own to treat lymphoma unless the cancer is confined to one small area.
Chemotherapy is usually administered every three weeks for several months. The exact combination of drugs used in the chemotherapy treatment will depend on the severity of your cat’s condition. Your cat will experience side effects as a result of the treatment, including nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Your cat’s condition will be closely monitored while he is receiving chemotherapy. The vet will perform multiple blood tests during this time to evaluate the number of red vs. white blood cells in the bloodstream. If chemotherapy treatment is successful, the cancer cells in your cat’s body will be killed, and the cancer will be said to be in remission.
Recovery of Immune System Tumors in Cats
Just as in humans, cancer in cats can be unpredictable, so it’s difficult to determine whether your cat will fully recover from lymphoma. However, the earlier you bring your cat into the vet for treatment, the better his chances are of surviving. The survival rate is higher in cases which the cancer has not spread to major organs yet.
After your cat receives chemotherapy, you will need to watch him closely. His immune system is very vulnerable during treatment, so it’s important to keep him in a clean environment where he will not develop an infection. Although side effects are to be expected from the chemotherapy, if your cat appears extremely ill, it’s important to take him to a veterinarian as soon as possible.