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Canine and Feline Lymphoma: Review of Prognostic Factors and Treatment Options

Rodney L. Page MS, DVM: Diplomate ACVIM (Internal Medicine/Oncology)
College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University

Canine Lymphoma:

Prognostic Factors

1.  Phenotype (Lymphocyte lineage): The most important prognostic factor identified to date is whether the neoplasm arises from a B-cell lineage or a T-cell lineage. Several large retrospective reviews have concluded that T-cell lymphomas are more likely to fail than are B-cell tumors. At least half of the T-cell derived tumors are helper T cells (CD4+), secrete parathyroid-like hormone and are thus, hypercalcemic. Overall, only 20% of all dogs with lymphoma are of T-cell origin, the remaining 80% of B-cell tumors represent a large number of dogs. Within this group the response to chemotherapy is also very diverse. Means of further delineating responding from non-responding B-cell lymphomas is necessary.

2.  Cranial Mediastinal Lymphadenopathy: The presence of any lymphadenopathy within the cranial mediastinum was identified as another negative predictor of outcome in a large retrospective study. This association was observed with even mild (small) mediastinal involvement and was also found to be unassociated with phenotype (i.e. the effect was equally strong within the B and T cell categories).

3.  WHO Stage and Substaging: Dogs with stage I-III were found to have better response to treatment than were dogs with stage IV/V. Dogs with systemic manifestations of their tumor (fever, depression, coagulopathies, GI symptoms) were more likely to fail than dogs without signs of illness (substage A vs. B).

4.  Gender: Intact male dogs have been found by several investigators to be at higher risk of death than other genders. The role of testosterone on chemosensitivity is not well characterized.

5.  Cell proliferation status: The number cells actively cycling and the rate of cell proliferation (doubling time) has been examined in several different studies for relevance to outcome. Data has been mixed in these studies.

Table 1: Multivariate analysis of factors identified as significant for remission (Rem) and (Surv).

All Dogs (n=162)






Rel Risk



Rel Risk



B v. T
















Cr Med LN









160 v. 60 days

335 v. 157 days



B-Cell Only (n=129)







Rel Risk



Rel Risk



B5 (>75%)
















A v. B









203 v. 125 days

375 v. 200 days

Table 2. Complete response (CR) rate, progression free survival (PFS - days) and overall survival (Surv - days) for dogs treated with combination chemotherapy in various immunophenotypic categories of lymphoma.

Phenotype (n)

CR rate

All Dogs
PFS    Surv

Dog's achieving CR
PFS    Surv

Any T (27)






Any B (119)






   Favorable B (57)






Unfavorable B(23)






a  Log Rank and Wilcoxon statistic < 0.0001 between T-cell lymphoma and any of the B - cell lymphoma categories.

b  Log Rank and Wilcoxon statistic < 0.05 for comparison between B5(low) and B5(Normal) categories of B-cell lymphomas.

Feline Lymphoma:

Prognostic Factors

1.  Stage: Feline lymphoma is classically staged according to a similar scheme as that in dogs. In addition, the extent of disease (bulky tumor involvement of liver/spleen or massive abdominal involvement) is considered an additional aid in assessing potential response to conventional therapy. Cats with bulky stage III or IV disease may fail to achieve a complete remission more often (50%) than cats without extensive tumor burdens (90%). Presentation of cats with systemic illness is also a negative prognostic factor as in dogs.

2.  FeLV antigenemia: In addition to negative effect of FeLV infection, oOther manifestations of the FeLV infection may limit the use aggressive therapy and may require substantial supportive therapy (blood component administration and nutritional assistance).

3.  Morphologic grade in intestinal, infiltrative disease.

4.  Response to initial therapy is perhaps the most reliable prognostic factor. Although this requires commitment from the owner to initiate treatment and maintain the treatment for a sufficient time period to determine response, this time frame is often not more than 4-8 weeks. Cats that achieve a complete remission initially may continue to have durable remissions, extending for more than 12-18 months. Encouraging the owner of cat with lymphoma to attempt treatment and setting a decision point 4-8 weeks following the treatment will give the benefit to the cats and does not risk substantial toxicity or expense.

Staging Criteria Prognostic Factor Med Surv
Stage I - single lymph node, tumor (thymic or extranodal)    
Stage II - Regional lymph nodes,o one side of diaphragm. Response to Therapy  

- Single, resectable GI nodule

CR 7
Stage III - Generalized lymphadenopathy PR 2.5

- Unresectable/multiple GI Nodule

Stage IV - Liver and/or spleen involvement I, II 7.6

- Epidural involvement

I, II, IV, V 3.0

+/- Stage III

FeLV Status  
  Neg 9
Stage V - Blood and/or bone marrow involvement. Pos 4.2

- Multiple or infiltrative extranodal involvement.

FeLV Neg/ Stage I,II 17.5

(pulmonary, CNS)

GI - well differentiated >18

+/- Stage III or IV.


Additional considerations:
    Substage a vs. b
    Extensive tumor burden (organomegaly)


General Recommendations for Therapy

•  Inducing a complete remission is the most important aspect of treatment. Several induction protocols exist and owners should be encouraged to include this component in the treatment regimen even if less aggressive maintenance therapy is elected. Prolonged treatment with Prednisone alone may reduce the future success of combination chemotherapy protocols.

•  Combination chemotherapy is more effective than single agent chemotherapy. However, the activity of each single must be known before incorporation into multi-agent protocol. The use of prednisone alone is considered palliative therapy and, in fact, may reduce the ability to subsequent effectiveness of combination protocols. Therefore, initiate combination therapy within a short period of time following diagnosis rather than start prednisone for several weeks with the intention of instituting the rest of the drugs later.

•  The incorporation of doxorubicin into combination protocols has provided a significant benefit to many dogs with lymphoma. This compound requires more extensive monitoring and knowledge regarding management of potential side effects. However, it is currently recommended as a component of the treatment regimen, unless contraindications to its use exist.

•  Numerous protocols exist and several can be found in general textbooks. The general response and survival for many of the common protocols are listed below. Remember that each of the numbers here is a median without consideration of any single prognostic category. The specific data for groups of dogs with prognostically distinct characteristics treated with combination protocols is located in the tables above

Comparison of Treatment Protocols for Canine Lymphoma.


Remission Times

Survival Times



~ 30 days


20-40 days

30-120 days


150 days

200 days


132 days

219 days


~ 240 days

~ 365days


180 days

220 days

C = Cyclophosphamide, O = Oncovin(tm) (vincristrine), P = prednisone, M = Methotrexate, A = Cytosine Arabinoside, L-Asp = L-asparaginase

Additional chemotherapeutic agents known to be effective for canine lymphoma:

CCNU (CeeNU or Lomustine), Mechlorethamine (Mustargen), Procarbazine (Matulane), Chlorambucil (Leukeran), Mitoxantrone and Cytosine arabinoside.

Cats with low-grade, infiltrative, intestinal lymphoma

Prednisone (5 mg po BID or Q24) plus Chlorambucil (2 mg po EOD).

Other Considerations:

Half-Body Radiotherapy following chemotherapy

Single GI nodule with or without mesenteric lymphadenopathy or infiltrate - consider surgery followed by chemotherapy.

Solitary, extranodal lymphoma (cutaneous, CNS, ocular, etc)

Felv (+) - local control with surgery or radiation plus systemic chemotherapy.
Felv (-) - local control only (surgery or radiation).

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