What Are the Treatments for Stage 5 Lymphoma in Dogs?

Lymphoma is one of the most common of all canine cancers, with some breeds having a one in eight chance of developing it over the course of their lifetime. Left untreated, the disease can cause death within four to six weeks. Treatment can extend life expectancy by as much as a year, but rarely more than that.

Following the model developed for humans, canine cancers are assigned a stage based on the spread of the disease and the organ involved. In most schemas, there are five stages, with stage five being the last, most serious stage. This is also called terminal or end-stage lymphoma, and represents the point when all of the dog's organs are involved and further treatment is unlikely to result in remission.

That said, there are still treatment decisions that can be made during your dog's last few months. What are the treatments for stage 5 lymphoma in dogs?

Continued Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the standard treatment for dogs who are initially diagnosed with lymphoma, and it can be administered over the entire course of the disease. Most of the cases of remission are the result of chemotherapeutic intervention. Unfortunately, once a dog has relapses from the first remission, there is rarely a second one. However, chemotherapy is generally much better tolerated in dogs than in humans, so there is little reason not to continue chemotherapeutic care. Depending on the dog’s original health, it may buy him a few more weeks, though the family should be aware that stage 5 cancer cannot be cured.

Palliative Care

Many veterinarians will recommend switching the focus of care from cure to pain prevention measures once the dog has entered stage 5 lymphoma. The cancer itself is rarely painful, though the dog might have trouble standing or walking. Vomiting may occur, but most bodily functions remain intact. For these reasons, that disease is often allowed to take its course naturally.

Some families may wish to consciously end their pet’s life. This is something that should be discussed with the veterinarian, who will be able to describe the exact procedure. In cases where the dog is clearly uncomfortable, the final nature of a stage 5 diagnosis makes euthanasia a humane option.

Experimental Medicine

Two other therapies that might be suggested are bone marrow transplants and allogeneic stem cell transplants. These are relatively new and only offered by a few places in the country, but they show an impressive success rate at curing even end-stage cancer in pets. Unfortunately, the price is out of range for most families, at more than $20,000. Also, the pretreatment regimens can cause pain in the animal, leaving many to argue that it is not worth the extra trouble.

As with any experimental treatment, outcomes for these therapies are not well established, and further research will need to be done before they become widely accessible, affordable options.

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