Actor-politician has non-Hodgkins lymphoma
WASHINGTON Potential presidential candidate Fred Thompson, known to millions of Law & Order viewers as a gruff district attorney, revealed he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer, nearly three years ago.Thompson, 64, said he is in remission with no illness or symptoms. The Tennessee Republican was prompted to make the disclosure on the Fox News Channel and ABC Radio on Wednesday because he is thinking about running for president.I know its not a big deal, as far as my health is concerned, as much as a person can know about things like that, Thompson said.But other people have the right to look at it and weigh in, and I have a need to factor that into my decision in terms of the reaction that I get about it, he said.Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who abandoned his plans to seek the presidency, said Thompsons disclosure indicates his seriousness as a potential candidate.On his Web site, Frist encouraged supporters to post statements encouraging Thompson to run.Hes a dedicated public servant with true conservative credentials, extraordinary communications skills and a devotion to his principles, said Frist, a former Tennessee senator and heart surgeon.Thompson, who plays district attorney Arthur Branch on NBCs Law and Order, was diagnosed after a doctor found a little bump in my neck during a routine physical about 2 1/2 years ago, he said.The bump turned out to be an indolent form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, one that tends to respond well to treatment, he said.Lymphoma is an immune-system cancer that strikes more than 71,000 people, killing more than 19,000 each year in the United States. Overall, the five-year survival rate for the non-Hodgkins group of lymphomas is 63 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.The former senator said his cancer is literally irrelevant in terms of my daily routine. He sometimes has 14-hour days, working out three times a week, often filling in for ABC Radio broadcaster Paul Harvey in the morning and taping Law & Order in the afternoon.So my life goes on as normal, he said. Nobody knows about the future, of course, but as much as the doctors can tell … it should not be a factor.Thompson told Fox interviewer Neil Cavuto, who has battled Hodgkins disease in the past and has multiple sclerosis, he has many friends in politics, some running for president, who have successfully dealt with cancer.Republican Sen. John McCain has had three bouts with melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, and 2008 rival Rudy Giuliani battled prostate cancer. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee, and Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP nominee, also had prostate cancer.And Democrat Paul Tsongas ran for president in 1992, six years after lymphoma forced an end to his Senate career. Tsongas had undergone a radical bone marrow transplant and later, after his disease recurred, died form a complication related to treatment.Also, just weeks ago, Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, announced that her cancer had returned, and White House spokesman Tony Snow recently had surgery for cancer that spread to his liver.A statement from his doctor said Thompsons prognosis is good.Some lymphomas are very aggressive, but people with slow-growing types, like Senator Thompsons, more often die from natural causes associated with old age, rather than from the disease, said Dr. Bruce Cheson, hematology chief at Georgetown University Hospital.After being diagnosed, Thompson received Rituxan, the first in a new generation of drugs that over the last decade has revolutionized lymphoma care. Rituxan is made of monoclonal antibodies, cells engineered to hunt down the cancer by recognizing an antigen on its surface and kill it without doing the harm to surrounding tissue that chemotherapy would.Ironically, more aggressive forms of lymphoma are the ones that are potentially curable if caught before the patient is too ill, said Dr. Mitchell Smith, lymphoma chief at Fox Chase Cancer Center.Indolent forms like Thompsons, which is known as marginal zone lymphoma, are not curable. But theyre easier to push into remission, repeatedly if need be, with doctors treating it as a chronic disease, Smith said.Doctors suspect average survival is increasing, thanks to newer drugs like Rituxan that have largely replaced the need for chemotherapy early in the disease.Thompson was elected to the Senate in 1994 to fill the seat of Al Gore and easily won re-election in 1996, but after his daughter died of a heart attack in 2002, he announced he would not seek another term.Thompson, who is divorced, married his second wife, Jeri Kehn, in 2002. Thompson has two young children at home, including a 4-month-old son, and has two older children.