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Cutaneous Lymphoma in Cats

cutaneous_lymphoma_in_catsMy cat had a lump in the skin of her armpit that became inflamed and irritated.  It was removed surgically and sent for a biopsy.  The result of the biopsy was cutaneous lymphoma.  I know that lymphoma is a type of cancer, but I have never heard of it occurring in the skin.  What should I know about this disease?

Skin cancers are fairly common in cats, but cutaneous lymphoma is quite uncommon.  Only about 3% of lymphoma cases in cats occur in the skin.  There may be a linkage between feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline cutaneous lymphoma. 

Feline cutaneous lymphoma can present quite a variety of symptoms including:

  • Itching

  • Hair loss

  • Scaly skin

  • Skin redness

  • Loss of skin color

  • Ulcers

  • Nodules

  • Pustules

  • Plaques

As cutaneous lymphoma progresses, the skin commonly becomes thickened, reddened, ulcerated, and may begin to ooze fluid.  While any area of skin may be affected, the most common locations to find cutaneous lymphoma lesions include the junction between mucus membranes and the skin.  Examples include the lip margins, the eyelids, the anus/rectum, the vulva, and the prepuce of the penis.

Cutaneous lymphoma is diagnosed via biopsy.  It may spread to lymph nodes in the area of the skin lesions, which is the disease’s pathway to the rest of the body.  Once the lymph nodes are involved, systemic spread to the organs can occur.

Is there any treatment for feline cutaneous lymphoma?  What about a cat’s life expectancy after diagnosis?

Unfortunately, feline cutaneous lymphoma is considered incurable.  Palliative treatments may slow progression and contribute to survival.  On average, cats diagnosed with cutaneous lymphoma and treated will live only 6 – 12 months.  Overall, this is a difficult and discouraging disease for both cats and their owners.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Robin Downing, DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CRPP

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