Treating Lymphoma With Steroids: How To Know What To Expect

Last updated:
March 21, 2023
A pet owner hugging his Dalmatian dog

It can be hard to find the best treatment for your pet when they receive a lymphoma diagnosis. There is so much pressure around making the right decision quickly, and with a cancer like this, time is always the most invaluable resource that you never have enough of.

So how can you know that you are making the right decision for both your dog and your budget when it feels like everything you’re being told is way out of your reach?

While chemotherapy is the most common and effective treatment, there is another option that can give your dog a great life post-diagnosis. Steroids are a great cost-efficient treatment that can help you bring your dog out of the depths of their diagnosis. 

Why do vets use steroids to treat lymphoma?

The most common type of steroid that your vet may prescribe is prednisone, or a similar drug called prednisolone. These drugs are manufactured corticosteroids, a naturally developed hormone commonly known for controlling stress responses like fight or flight.

Stress responses are only one of the many uses for corticosteroids, which can also influence the body’s electrolyte levels, reduce the effects of inflammation, and alter normal immune system responses.1 

Steroid treatments can help with cancer patients because cancerous growths use the same components of immune cell flare-ups. Just like the way that steroids like prednisone slow down the immune system, they can directly slow down the reproduction and spread of cancer cells.2 

While steroid treatments aren’t the go-to for vets treating canine lymphoma—that would be the CHOP protocol, which you can learn more about here—their cost and effectiveness make them a second choice for many, and around half of dogs with lymphoma treated with prednisone will make it into a short remission.3 

At the moment, there aren’t any official studies directly noting the efficacy of a steroid-only treatment for lymphoma, but Iowa State University is currently performing a multi-center study called CALYPSO (CAnine LYmPhoma Steroid Only)4 with the goal of determining the response to therapy, how long it lasts, and if different types of lymphoma respond better than others. 

How much does steroid treatment cost?

In comparison to a multi-agent chemotherapy treatment, a prednisone-based treatment is strikingly less expensive. Cost is one of the most common reasons for a pet parent to choose prednisone-only over a combination treatment. 

Prednisone is a very common drug in veterinary medicine due to its many different uses, which leads to it being a more accessible treatment, both in price and availability. Prednisone comes in typically 10mg or 20mg tablets, though it can be prescribed in anything from 1-50mg. The cost of tablets varies by location and prescription, but a 10mg tablet will cost anywhere from $0.15-$0.30, and 20mg anywhere from $0.17-$0.32. 

Find out more in our cost of treatment blog.

How do steroid treatments work?

Prednisone is a relatively safe drug to administer as a pet owner, which makes it a much simpler treatment than chemotherapy, which often requires a lot of safety precautions and more trips to the vet. 

Prednisone is typically given as a chewable tablet or a capsule, something that can simply be stuck in a treat and handed to your pet.1 

The most complicated part of the treatment is to make sure you are following your vet’s instructions as closely as possible. Prednisone is a drug that your dog will need to be weaned off of to avoid withdrawal symptoms, so many vets will give a schedule of when to give the medication (ie. twice a day for 5 days, once a day for 5 days, every other day for 10 days, etc.). Following their instructions and schedule will not only make sure that your dog is getting the most of their treatment but also limits any side effects that may come. You should also never stop treatment abruptly because that can lead to more severe side effects. 

What are the potential side effects of steroid treatment?

Prednisone is a drug that affects a lot of different parts of the body at the same time, so while it is helping slow the spread and even kill off cancer cells, it is also creating a hormonal change to the whole body. 

Side effects are expected for any medical treatment, especially those using drugs that impact the whole body. Luckily, for the majority of patients taking prednisone, the side effects are minimal and easy to manage. 

Side effects of taking prednisone for short periods of time include:2

  • Increased thirst and appetite
  • Increased panting
  • Increased need to use the bathroom
  • Changes in bowel movements (diarrhea or black tarry stools)
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Lethargy
  • Increased susceptibility to infections

For some pet parents, treating lymphoma with prednisone may lead to a long-term treatment plan that can lead to different side effects such as:1 

  • Severe allergic reactions 
  • Changes in behavior (often increased aggression) 
  • Muscle atrophy (losing muscle and strength)
  • Inhibited growth in younger dogs

And the potential for certain diseases:

  • Cushing’s disease
  • Addison’s disease
  • Heart problems
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Be sure to provide plenty of water for your extra thirsty pup, but try to avoid overfeeding them; giving small amounts of food often throughout the day can help combat their additional hunger. 

Plan for more bathroom trips than normal and make sure you’re paying attention to their cues when they need to go out. If you aren’t able to take them out more frequently due to work or any other reasons, set up a potty station using potty-training pads and let them know it’s okay to use them.

Help protect your pup’s mood by giving them extra affection and taking them for walks or to play and sniff in new locations. It is important to keep their positivity up to prevent a shift towards more aggression. 

How to know if steroid treatment is right for your dog?

For most pet parents choosing to treat with steroids, the choice is based on the cost of the treatment. For some, it’s used as palliative care, to make sure that the days that their dog has left are lived with higher quality. 

For either reason, it’s likely that steroids will be the right choice for you. 

Other pet parents may want more answers, how will it work, how long does it take, how long will their dog be healthy after? Many of those answers aren’t available. But if you’re looking for them, ImpriMed may be able to help.

ImpriMed uses your dog’s live cancer cells to develop a Personalized Prediction Profile to help your vet find out what treatment plan will be the most effective for your pet, how long it will take to get into remission, and how long they will be in remission. 

The Personalized Prediction Profile typically focuses on chemotherapy treatments and drug combinations and dosages to find the most effective treatment for your pet, which lets you avoid the trial and error of testing different treatments and gets you more time with your pooch and less with your vet.

Learn more about ImpriMed’s Personalized Prediction Profile

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