Cutaneous Lymphoma in Cats

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Robin Downing, DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CRPP

What is cutaneous lymphoma?

Skin cancers are common in cats, but cutaneous lymphoma is relatively uncommon. Less than 2% of lymphoma cases in cats occur in the skin. There may be a link between feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline cutaneous lymphoma.

Feline cutaneous lymphoma can present various clinical signs, including itching, alopecia (hair loss), scaly skin, skin redness, loss of skin color, ulcers, nodules, pustules, and plaques.

As cutaneous lymphoma progresses, the skin becomes thickened, reddened, ulcerated, and may ooze fluid. While any skin area 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, eyelids, around the nose, anus/rectum, vulva, and the prepuce of the penis.

How is cutaneous lymphoma diagnosed?

Cutaneous lymphoma is diagnosed via skin biopsy, which is the removal of affected tissue to be examined by a veterinary pathologist in a laboratory. 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?

Unfortunately, feline cutaneous lymphoma is considered incurable. Surgical removal can be attempted for solitary lesions, although the tumor often returns to the area or will have spread elsewhere in the body already. Palliative chemotherapy or radiation therapy may slow progression and contribute to survival time.

What is the prognosis?

This condition comes with a grave prognosis. On average, cats diagnosed with cutaneous lymphoma and given treatment will live only 6–12 months. This is a complex and discouraging disease for both cats and their owners.

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