Why Are Golden Retrievers So Prone To Cancer? Lymphoma In Golden Retrievers

January 30, 2023
Happy Golden Retriever, increase risk of developing lymphoma

Golden retrievers are well known for their playful, goofy personalities and their overall intelligence, along with being a great family pet. Unfortunately, as a breed, golden retrievers are also at an increased risk of developing cancer.

What puts golden retrievers at risk?

Golden retrievers are one of the most beloved breeds to date, though their popularity has led to an increase in health problems over time. Golden retrievers are now the most likely breed to develop cancer in their lifetime, with 60% of all goldens’ lives ending due to developing cancer.1 

Through their history, goldens have had a relatively longer lifespan up until the last 50 years, where their risk for cancer and other diseases has gone up exponentially—especially in the United States. In the 1970s golden retrievers were regularly living up until around 17 years old, but now an optimistic lifespan is only around 10-14 years.5 

Risk factors that may have developed in ancestry predispose dogs to distinct malignancies. In addition, during the selection process where strict breed barriers were imposed, risk-related factors may have independently evolved in some breeds. Unfortunately, as the popularity–and therefore the demand–for a breed increases, so does the risk for genetic mutations; the speed with which breeders are mating dogs does not allow for a more selective process to ensure that only the healthiest and strongest dogs produce offspring. You can see this happening right now with the popularity of French Bulldogs: their gradual breeding is beginning to, more often than not, produce puppies with an ineffective, and at times dangerous, snout length. This breeding change can be seen as a more localized development in golden retrievers, with American bred goldens having a higher likelihood of cancer than their European counterparts. In 2010 the mortality rate of golden retrievers in Europe found the percentage at 38.8%, contrasting the 61.4% in American bred goldens.3 

Though it is unfortunate to see the development in any breed, golden retrievers have created a uniquely fit study group to advance the future of canine medicine. 

The breed has consistent gene representation and provides an opportunity for larger scale studies, like that of Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime study,2 which collects and compares health information of golden retrievers throughout their lifetimes across the world. The data the Golden Retriever Lifetime study is able to provide can help veterinary medicine identify specific genetic phrases, outside carcinogens, and other health information that they might not have been able to narrow down without the help of the Golden Retriever breed.7

The four most common types of malignant cancers found in golden retrievers include Lymphoma, Hemangiosarcoma, Osteosarcoma, and Mast Cell tumors.These four cancers make up about 80% of all cancer deaths in golden retrievers. ImpriMed hopes to help all pet parents understand and address canine lymphoma, so read on to learn more about lymphoma in golden retrievers. 

Lymphoma in golden retrievers 

Lymphoma is a systemic cancer, meaning it impacts the whole body rather than staying localized to one area. It affects cells in the immune system called lymphocytes that are a major part of the body’s defense system against illnesses, viruses, and bacteria. Of all breeds that develop lymphoma or leukemia, golden retrievers make up 9.25% of all cases, making them the most likely breed to develop lymphoma.4 

There are multiple different ways that lymphoma can develop in the body, and based on where the cancer originates and what type of cells are affected, there are several different potential outcomes for a diagnosis. All lymphoma cases can be either large cell or small cell in nature, as well as affect B-cells or T-cells, with large and T-cell forms being more aggressive and fast developing than their small and B-cell counterparts. The four main types of lymphoma are Multicentric (affecting the whole body), Alimentary (affecting the gastrointestinal tract), Mediastinal (affecting the lungs and chest cavity), and Extranodal (developing outside of a lymph node—most commonly cutaneous, which affects the skin.) 

As with any cancer, the likelihood of a successful treatment comes with the ability to catch the disease before it can spread. Because golden retrievers are so prone to cancers and other health problems, it’s often recommended to visit the vet on a more regular basis than is required for other breeds—perhaps visiting your vet twice a year once they reach age 5 and increasing that to 3 or 4 times in a year once they hit 8 or 9 years old.5 

While canine lymphoma is not curable, it is entirely possible for a patient with an early identified case to be treated and be able to live a happy and healthy life in remission.

Common forms of lymphoma in golden retrievers

Golden retrievers are more likely to get lymphoma than any other breed, and they are also more likely to get a specific form of lymphoma than other breeds. In the United States, golden retrievers are the most common breed to be diagnosed with T-zone lymphoma. 

T-zone lymphoma (TZL) is a specific kind of T-cell lymphoma that, unlike other T-cell variations, is slow to progress. This is as much of a kindness as any pet parent can hope for when their pet is diagnosed with cancer. TZL has a drastically longer survival time than other lymphomas, with median times often being 2 to 2.5 years after diagnosis. Despite this positive outcome, it should be noted that there has not been much data showing that chemotherapy treatments are able to increase survival times, as has been clearly tracked with other forms of lymphoma. 

To properly identify what kind of lymphoma is affecting a patient (large, small, B-, or T-cell variations), your vet will perform specific tests, and through that same test will then also be able to identify flow cytometry, as well as detect whether it is T-zone lymphoma. This makes it a lot easier to avoid unnecessary or excessive treatment.6  

While T-zone lymphoma is more common in goldens than any other dog, it is important to note that a Golden Retriever is just as susceptible to the other forms of lymphoma that do affect quality of life and can have dire outcomes if not treated. 

Treatment options for golden retrievers with lymphoma

For goldens that aren’t diagnosed with the slow progressing T-zone form of lymphoma, treatment is going to be very important. Thankfully, the history of golden retrievers developing lymphoma has advanced veterinary medicine to a point that most early diagnoses will have success in achieving remission. Remission is when all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although cancer still may be in the body.. 

The most common and effective treatment for any dog with lymphoma will be to go through a multiagent chemotherapy protocol, the most effective often being a form of the CHOP protocol (Cyclophosphamide, Doxorubicin Hydrochloride—sometimes called Hydroxydaunomycin, Vincristine sulfate (brand name Oncovin), and Prednisone). The CHOP protocol has been deemed the “Gold Standard” of canine lymphoma treatments and is regularly successful in bringing patients into remission. You can learn more about the CHOP Protocol in our post here.

While there are other treatment options available, chemotherapy is the one most vets rely on to give your pet the best quality of life as possible. Though your vet may recommend other options for treatment if your pet has a T-zone variation as chemotherapy is not always the best option for those particular cases.

Other treatment options include:

  • Radiation therapy has a higher impact on the dog’s quality of life while going through treatment, unlike chemotherapy which has a small impact on their day-to-day. 
  • Surgery can negate some of the external factors, or lower the effects of one point of impact but ultimately, lymphoma affects the whole body so there is no way to remove it all. 
  • Steroid only treatments can mitigate some of the symptoms that your pet may be going through, but ultimately will be a temporary fix to a long term problem, though it is a more cost effective option. 

Overall, chemotherapy treatments are more effective, and less invasive to your pet’s quality of life. Dogs overall react very well to chemotherapy drugs, and most chemotherapy treatments for dogs are designed with their comfort in mind. 

How ImpriMed can help

While golden retrievers may often be lumped into the same group for predictions of illness and even response to medicine, ImpriMed focuses on the individual and helps to find each patient the best treatment plan for them. We help veterinary oncologists provide the very best treatment possible to every canine lymphoma patient that we encounter. 

Using advanced labs, an ever-growing database of information on cane lymphoma patients, artificial intelligence, and your dog’s live cancer cells, we create a Personalized Prediction Profile specific to your pet and your pet alone.

The Personalized Prediction Profile shows your vet the best chemotherapy drugs and dosages to have the most effective treatment plan, get your dog into remission as quickly as possible, and—most importantly—keep them there as long as they can.

Find out how to get your vet involved with ImpriMed today.

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