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Cutaneous lymphoma in a Friesian heifer

Ben Weir, Production Animal Vets, Paris Creek, SA, Graeme Knowles, Specialist Veterinary Anatomic Pathologist, Gribbles and Jeremy Rogers, Strathalbyn, SA


In September, unusual firm lumps were observed on a 10-month-old Holstein dairy heifer from a herd of approximately 200 animals on a property in the Fleurieu Peninsula, SA. No other animals were affected. Samples were collected for diagnosis and to rule out for lumpy skin disease (LSD). An unusual diagnosis of cutaneous non-epitheliotropic T cell lymphoma was made. This neoplasia is rarely recorded in South Australian cattle. Enzootic bovine leukaemia (EBL) was also ruled out as a contributing factor in the lymphoma.

In an environment of heightened concern and awareness of exotic diseases of cattle and other species, alert practitioners and producers who report and investigate unusual presentations, such as the one investigated in this case, are to be commended.

History, physical exam findings and differential diagnoses

A Holstein heifer with "unusual lumps all over" was reported to the veterinarian in late September. The lumps seemed to have appeared suddenly, over approximately two weeks, and appeared to be growing and becoming ulcerated (Figures 1-4). The heifer was homebred, there were no recent introductions of other cattle, and no other animals were affected. The animal appeared to be otherwise healthy with no other abnormalities noted on physical examination.

Differential diagnoses included LSD, cutaneous lymphoma, cutaneous mast cell tumour, dermatophilosis, cutaneous Actinomycosis / Actinobacillosis / Nocardiosis, urticarial, besnoitiosis, bovine farcy, onchocerciasis, demodecosis, dermatophytosis, pseudocowpox and cowpox. Samples were sent to the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) for LSD testing and other samples retained at Gribbles for histopathology.

Image of heifer with lumps under the skin on the shoulder
Figure 1. Multiple 3-4 cm subcutaneous nodules on the shoulder of the affected heifer
Image of a heifer showing lumps under the skin around the udder
Figure 2. Subcutaneous nodules on the perineum of the affected heifer
Image of a heifer showing lumps under the skin on the flank
Figure 3. Firm subcutaneous nodules on the right flank of the affected heifer
Image of a heifer showing lumps under the skin on the abdomen
Figure 4. Firm subcutaneous nodules on the ventral abdomen of the heifer

Laboratory results

At the ACDP, LSD virus DNA was not detected by Capripox TaqMan qPCR assay in fresh cutaneous lesions or EDTA blood and antibodies to LSD were not detected by ID Screen Capripox double antigen multipedes ELISA.

On haematology there was a moderate lymphocytosis, with small lymphocytes. The rest of the haematology was relatively normal.

On histopathology, there was a raised demarcated, non-encapsulated, densely cellular lymphoid neoplasm, consisting of cords and sheets of uniform small lymphocytes that had positive cytoplasmic and cell wall detection of CD3 antigen by CD3-antibody immunohistochemistry. The neoplasm did not extend through the overlying epithelium. The findings were consistent with cutaneous non-epitheliotropic T cell lymphoma.

Bovine leukaemia virus (EBL virus) antibodies were not detected by BLV ELISA®.

The animal was later destroyed as it was discussed with the farmer that the animal had the potential to deteriorate due to metastatic spread to the organs.


Although cutaneous lymphomas are 'exceedingly rare'1, there are some cases cited in the literature associated with malignant transformation of T or B cell lymphocytes2. Cutaneous lymphoma is one of three forms of sporadic bovine leukosis. The cases reported appeared to be in Holstein-Friesian cows and all cases were in young cattle.

Cases typically present with a history of progressive loss of condition and extensive skin lesions followed by a progressive general loss of condition, with weakness, anorexia and fever. In some advanced cases intense bleeding at the site of a cutaneous lesions may occur. There is usually no evidence of pruritus and a severe leucocytosis with a marked lymphocytosis together with a non-regenerative anaemia may be observed3.

A suspicion that these lymphomas are associated with EBL, or bovine leukaemia virus was mentioned in earlier papers1 but was not supported in later ones, or in the results of tests in this case. This finding is important, as EBL is considered to have been eradicated from the Southern Australian (dairy cattle) population where a large proportion of herds was infected about 30 years ago.

Cutaneous non-epitheliotropic lymphomas (also known as Mycosis fungoides) are reported in cattle around two years of age. The animal in this case appeared younger. Cutaneous lymphoma is generally not associated with bovine leukaemia virus. Cutaneous non-epitheliotropic lymphoma in cattle usually occurs on the back and sides of the animal (as in this case). The lesions can depilate and ulcerate then heal spontaneously (ulceration is more common in epitheliotropic lymphomas). In the early stages of the disease, cattle remain in good health but there is the potential for metastatic spread to other organs and deterioration in the animal's condition4.


  1. Marshak RR et al. (May 1996) Observations on a heifer with cutaneous lymphosarcoma Cancer Journal Vol. 19: Issue 5
  2. Otrocka-omagala Z, Procajlo K, Pazdzior M, Gesek T, Rotkiewicz and W Szweda (2012) Immunohistochemical profile of multicentric cutaneous epitheliotropic T-cell lymphoma with generalised lymphadenopathy in a Holstein-Friesian cow: a case report I Veterinarni Medicina 5(5):251-257
  3. Buczinski S, Couture Y, Hélie P and Francoz D (2006) Cutaneous T cell lymphoma in a heifer seropositive for bovine leukosis virus The Veterinary Record May 13, 2006
  4. Valli VE (2007) Mycosis fungoides and Sezary Syndrome in Veterinary Comparative Haematopathology 331-339


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