There are so many different factors that determine the life expectancy of a dog that has been diagnosed with lymphoma: the age at diagnosis, the type of lymphoma, the stage that it is in when it’s discovered, and the many treatment options. It can be overwhelming and discouraging to look into the possible life expectancy and see the more reserved side of the options.
Lymphoma is a systemic cancer, meaning that it affects the whole body rather than just one area. Systemic cancers are harder to cure because they spread throughout the body and impact different systems. Lymphoma affects the immune system and lymphocyte cells, making it more adaptive to treatment; adaptive, in this case, is not a positive attribute. Lymphocyte cells are a part of the immune system that fight off infections and diseases, but when they adapt to cancer as a normal part of the process and not an illness, those same lymphocytes will then protect the cancer cells and fight off any medication that is being given to your pet to treat the cancer.
Because lymphoma is not curable, it can be easy to assume that treatment is a waste of time or effort. But that is not the case. Many dogs can lead happy, healthy lives while in a state of remission, meaning that there are no active cancer cells in their body.
In fact, dogs diagnosed with lymphoma that do not receive treatment will have a very short survival time. The average length of time that a dog can live after diagnosis without any treatment is about 1-2 months.
Lymphoma is classified by many different variables: where the lymphoma is affecting the body, what kind of cells are cancerous, what stage the cancer is in, and whether or not the patient is showing symptoms. All of those classifications, when combined together, lead to different treatment methods and expected outcomes of that treatment.
Lymphoma is diagnosed in stages, depending on when the cancer is discovered, the stages may progress into others, or be treated into remission without advancing. The way that staging for lymphoma works is based on how many lymph nodes or organs are affected.
There are two substages that will impact your dog’s individual experience with Substage A being the dog shows no external signs of illness; Substage B being there are impacts on the dog’s daily life.
The most commonly diagnosed stages for dogs are 3 and 4, and many dogs that start in Substage A will progress into Substage B and begin showing symptoms of their ailment. However, dogs who begin treatment in Substage A have a much greater chance of achieving long-term survival.
Lymphoma is unfortunately a cancer without a cure at this time. The goal of all treatments is to achieve remission, during which the cancer cells are dormant in the body and do not affect your dog’s day-to-day life.
The prognosis of a lymphoma treatment is determined by the likelihood of achieving remission and the duration of time spent in remission before a relapse occurs and the cancer cells become active again.
While it is not the standard, nor most effective treatment, canine lymphoma can be treated with steroid drugs to keep the effects of lymphoma at bay. Steroids are used to prevent inflammation and cancerous cells behave similarly to immune cell flare-ups.
When a dog is given prednisone—a steroid drug—as their lymphoma treatment it is more so to give the dog a bit more time with a better quality of life. Treatment on prednisone alone can bring a dog into a remission (where the cancerous cells are no longer active) but they typically only last an average of 4-6 weeks before a relapse.
The most effective treatment for lymphoma is chemotherapy—specifically multiagent chemotherapy—because lymphoma affects the whole body and chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. Multiagent chemotherapy—using multiple different drugs—is beneficial because of the nature of the immune system. The cells that become cancerous, when healthy, are designed to fight off potential threats to the body, so once those cells become cancerous any threat to the cancer is one that they will now be fighting off. When only using one medication, those cells learn that the treatment is hurtful to the cancer, and as a result, they quickly adapt to be able to fight against it. By using multiple drugs, the cells don't get enough time to adapt to each form of treatment, effectively stopping the spread and lowering the number of cancerous cells.
CHOP is the “Gold Standard'' treatment for canine lymphoma because of its high efficacy rates. Dogs treated with a CHOP protocol (or another effective multiagent chemotherapy) can live anywhere from 10-14 months or more in remission.
Some canine lymphoma patients may benefit from the addition of radiation to a chemotherapy treatment. Radiation is a highly toxic form of treatment that is usually reserved for more localized forms of cancer. When using radiation therapy on lymphoma patients it’s performed in a ‘half-body’ method, where half of the body receives the treatment, and then the patient has at least 2 weeks to recover before receiving the treatment on the other half of the body.
If chemotherapy alone isn’t working, radiation therapy can be that final ‘push’ into remission. While there is not much data on how radiation therapy affects survival times, it can be expected to have a similar length of remission time as a successful chemotherapy treatment.
That’s what ImpriMed sets out to do. Our high tech labs and advanced systems help your vet find the very best treatment options to get your dog into remission in the most efficient way possible and keep them in remission for as long as we can.
Using AI technology, a large database of canine lymphoma patients and their treatments, and your dog’s live cancer cells we’re able to put together a Personalized Prediction Profile which allows us to help your vet find the best combination of drugs for your dog’s lymphoma.
The Personalized Prediction Profile also helps your vet to predict when a future relapse is likely, so they can be best prepared to help you and your dog throughout your entire lymphoma journey.