Lymphosarcoma is a debilitating cancer of the lymphatic system which affects ferrets of all ages, and occurs with equal incidence in both sexes. Lymphosarcoma can affect many different organs in the body, and for this reason the symptoms of this disease are extremely variable. Malignant lymphocytes may be found in bone marrow, lymph nodes, liver, spleen, intestine, spinal cord, and are often widespread through many different sites. There is some evidence that lymphosarcoma in ferrets may be caused by a virus, as occurs in some other species (for example, feline leukemia virus in cats), but this has not been proven.
Symptoms of lymphosarcoma in the ferret can include lethargy, weight loss, fever, coughing, and breathing difficulty. Symptoms vary according to the organs which are principally involved at the time, but chronic weight loss is a very common finding. In addition, on a physical examination the veterinarian may find enlargement of peripheral lymph nodes, enlargement of the spleen, or he may feel masses in the abdomen or chest.
Diagnosis of lymphosarcoma can be suggested by changes in the total white blood cell and lymphocyte counts, but a definitive diagnosis of this disease requires biopsy of affected tissues such as lymph nodes, spleen or bone marrow. These are routine procedures in veterinary medicine, and can usually be done on an outpatient basis.
Treatment of lymphosarcoma involves chemotherapy, and the initial improvement with some forms of lymphosarcoma can be dramatic. This is especially true for cases involving large lymph nodes and lymphoid thoracic masses. There are many chemotherapy protocols published in the veterinary literature, but most involve the use of prednisone, cyclophosphamide and vincristine. While on chemotherapy it is critical to follow the patient's progress with serial blood tests to make sure that the treatment is not excessively damaging the bone marrow's blood producing cells. Ferrets tend to tolerate chemotherapy well, usually with few significant side effects. Lymphosarcoma is rarely cured with these chemotherapy programs, although long term remissions of 6--12 months are achievable.
If you have any questions or comments about the information above, feel free to send a message to Dr. Suzanne Lee, D.V.M. at SLeeDVM@aol.com.Return to the Ferret Clinic
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