Skin Cancer (Epidermotropic Lymphoma) in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Apr. 10, 2010

Epidermotropic Lymphoma in Cats


Epidermotropic Lymphoma is a malignant tumor affecting the skin of cats and considered a subset of cutaneous (skin) T-cell lymphoma. Like other forms lymphoma, this cancer originates in the lymphocyte cells of the immune system. A type of white blood cell, lymphocytes play an integral role in the body’s defenses and are mainly seen in two forms: B-cells and T-cells.


Cats of all ages and breeds are susceptible to this cancer, though it usually affects older animals.


Symptoms and Types


  • Itching
  • Loss of hair (alopecia)
  • Scaly skin
  • Redness of skin
  • Lightening of skin color or loss of pigment (depigmentation)
  • Skin ulcers, nodule or mass formation (lesions may involve lips, eyelids, nasal surface, vulva, oral cavity)




The exact cause of this form of skin cancer is currently unknown.




You will need to give a thorough history of your cat’s health, including the onset and nature of the symptoms, to your veterinarian. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination as well a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count  -- the results of which are typically found to be variable, depending on the stage of the disease. Radiographic studies are used in advanced stages of the disease to confirm advanced tumor stage.


Often, a skin biopsy helps in making a definitive diagnosis. This is accomplished by removing a small piece of skin lesion, which is then sent to a veterinary pathologist.



Because a “cure” is thought to be highly unlikely for cats with epidermotropic lymphoma, providing an adequate quality of life remains the major goal of therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used to treat the disease, but are highly variable in their efficacy. The veterinarian may also recommend surgically excising isolated nodules.


Living and Management


Follow guidelines for using chemotherapy medication at your home, as these drugs are toxic to humans. They should only be used after seeking advice from a veterinary oncologist.


Unfortunately, overall prognosis is very poor in cats affected by this form of lymphoma. Only a few cats may live longer than two years after the diagnosis, and often they are euthanized.

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