What is Skin Cancer (Epidermotropic Lymphoma)?
The thymus gland is in the neck and produces a multitude of immune system cells, known as T-cells. These cells are essential for proper immune response. Skin cancer (epidermotropic lymphoma) in dogs is categorized by cancer, or lymphoma, within the tissue that lines the skin. Epidermotropic lymphoma is rare, and it is a malignant type of skin cancer that begins with the lymphocytes, which roles are to produce vital antibodies, destroy infectious cells, and identify the bodies’ antigens. Affecting older dogs in most cases, it can affect dogs of all age groups and breed types.
Epidermotropic lymphoma is a rare form of cancer caused by deformities in the lymphocytes. This type of malignancy of the skin is usually found in older dogs.
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Symptoms of Skin Cancer (Epidermotropic Lymphoma) in Dogs
Epidermotropic lymphoma has several varying symptoms, some of which can be confused with other skin disorders that are less severe in nature. If your dog has any of the following symptoms, it is important to make an appointment with the veterinarian. Symptoms include:
- Dry, scaly patches on the skin
- Hair loss
- Redness and irritation
- Loss of pigment
- Ulcers on the skin
The veterinarian will do differential testing on your dog to rule out other skin diseases. Types of skin conditions that have similar symptoms of epidermotropic lymphoma include:
- Mycosis fungoides
- Pagetoid reticulosis
- Sezary syndrome
- Sarcoptic mange
- Lupus erythematosus
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Food allergies
- Drug allergies
Causes of Skin Cancer (Epidermotropic Lymphoma) in Dogs
Research is still being conducted on the precise cause of this rare and serious form of cancer in dogs. The exact cause is unknown at this time; however some studies conclude that various environmental agents can cause the cancer to develop.
Diagnosis of Skin Cancer (Epidermotropic Lymphoma) in Dogs
The veterinarian will take a closer look at the clinical signs that the dog is exhibiting, and will then take a biopsy of the skin. Epidermotropic lymphoma can take on the appearance of inflammatory dermatitis in the early stages, so the veterinarian will need to rule out that condition and other related conditions as well. Once the biopsy is read, the veterinarian will perform an immunohistochemistry profile to further look at the progression of the cancer and tumor. Imaging methods will be considered to study the T cells and the characteristics of these cells.
Treatment of Skin Cancer (Epidermotropic Lymphoma) in Dogs
Once the diagnosis and studies of the cancerous cells have been concluded, the veterinarian will consider treatment options. Treatment can include:
The veterinarian may recommend a series of appointments for radiation therapy. This depends on the stage of the cancer, and whether the medical professional feels that it would be effective in fighting the cancer.
Chemotherapy may be given to your dog as a treatment option, and may be given at home on a regular schedule in pill form, such as with Lumostine, or with a steroid that is also used to treat some cancers known as Prednisolone. This type of treatment’s effectiveness and success rate depends solely on the dog’s level of cancer, age, and other factors.
Surgical removal of the affected skin areas (nodules) may be performed if the veterinarian feels there is a high chance of success with this cancer.
Recovery of Skin Cancer (Epidermotropic Lymphoma) in Dogs
If your loved one is on chemotherapy at home, be sure to follow the veterinarian’s instructions on the administration of the medication. If your dog had surgery to remove any of the cancerous areas, your veterinarian will give you specific instructions on how to care for your companion post-surgery. Unfortunately, epidermotropic lymphoma has a prognosis rating of poor. Chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery may prolong your dog’s life somewhat, but many dogs succumb to the disease within two years. Prognosis depends on the stage of the cancer and only your veterinarian, after looking at all of the tests, can determine your dog’s prognosis.
Skin Cancer (Epidermotropic Lymphoma) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My dog is 13 and has been losing hair for 2 years, he has large clumps of dry skin and redness. The vet thought she had another disease, I forget the name but blood test was negative! I took him to a dermatologist who said she was 85% sure he has lymphoma skin disease and wanted to do skin scrapings and biopsies. I ask what treatment would be prescribed if positive? She said chemo. I said it was no point doing the tests because I would not put a 13 year old dog on chemo. She said I would have to consider euthanasia at some point. She put him on shampoo and conditioner and said to bath him once a week. He drinks tons of water, unusual for him and has started to urinate and have BM's all over the house very unusual. He falls over when he urinates out side! He seems to have dementia.and wants to be with me no matter what room I am in the house! I noticed the last time I bathed him he had a large blister on his belly which broke when I bathed him. It is raw but it doesn't seem to bother him. He is very loving but bites if I try to help him. I want to do the right thing and wonder is it time to euthanize him. It will be very upsetting to me. He sleeps most of the day and night.
A decision to euthanase would be yours and it is a decision which needs to be made at some point; there are many varying criteria for euthanasia but generally if an animal is in pain, cannot perform normal bodily functions and has a general deterioration of quality of life. I understand you not wanting to put Patrick through chemotherapy, but supportive and symptomatic therapy will only go so far. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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I don't want to believe my dog has epidermotropic
Lymphoma even though she was diagnosed with it via a biopsy. Her blood work came back good, nothing showed up in her internal organs (X-ray was done). All tests that were done was normal. Could it have been misdiagnosed. She's eating well, drinking water as normal, runs, walk normal. Not lethargic, no diarohhea, no vomiting. Told need to X-ray of lungs even though nothing was found the first time and also need to aspirate her lymph nodes?
Performing a biopsy is the diagnostic tool of choice for many forms of cancer and is the last step in the diagnostic process to confirm the diagnosis; if you’re having doubts about the original diagnosis, a second biopsy may be requested. The primary symptoms that present are surrounding the skin with no real effects on the rest of the body until the lesions metastasise. Usually the first site of metastasis is the lymph nodes which is why an aspiration of lymph nodes is carried out along side x-rays to determine the progress of the condition. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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