Cutaneous Lymphoma in Dogs

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

What is cutaneous lymphoma?

Systemic lymphoma is a very common cancer in dogs, but the cutaneous form is quite rare. Current statistics suggest that cutaneous lymphoma accounts for only about 5% of canine lymphoma cases.

Canine cutaneous lymphoma can present in a variety of lesions. The lesions can be ulcers, nodules (lumps), plaques, reddish patches, or areas of scaling and hair loss. Some dogs experience itching at the lesions. As cutaneous lymphoma progresses, the skin commonly becomes thickened, reddened, ulcerated, and may begin to 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. 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 canine cutaneous lymphoma?

Because not very much is known about canine cutaneous lymphoma, there are no standard treatment protocols. Treatment of cutaneous lymphoma depends upon the extent of the dog’s disease. Single lesions can be removed surgically or may be treated with radiation therapy. Certain chemotherapy medications may also be used, but most have been shown to have little beneficial effect; other supportive medications may improve quality of life or treat secondary infections. Once the lymphoma has spread, then systemic treatment is generally recommended, which means a multi-modal chemotherapeutic approach.

What is the outlook for dogs with cutaneous lymphoma?

Unfortunately, canine cutaneous lymphoma typically carries with it a poor prognosis. Cutaneous lymphoma that has become systemic and is treated with multiple chemotherapeutic agents may result in survival of 8 months to 1.5 years. Overall, canine cutaneous lymphoma is a complex and discouraging disease for dogs and their owners.

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