Sen. Kennedy has malignant brain tumor: doctors

WASHINGTON Tue May 20, 2008 7:12pm EDT

1 of 9. Senator Edward Kennedy speaking at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston in a file photo. Kennedy, the brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy and the elder statesman of American liberal politics, has a malignant brain tumor, his doctors said on Tuesday.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, the brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy and the elder statesman of American liberal politics, has a malignant brain tumor, his doctors said on Tuesday.

Kennedy, 76, who has been hospitalized in Boston since he had a seizure on Saturday, will likely need chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat the glioma, a type of tumor that usually kills within three years.

A brief statement by Dr. Lee Schwamm of Massachusetts General Hospital and Dr. Larry Ronan, a primary physician there, did not give details on Kennedy's diagnosis or outlook and did not mention the possibility of surgically removing the tumor -- the best hope for longer survival.

"Preliminary results from a biopsy of the brain identified the cause of the seizure as a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe. The usual course of treatment includes combinations of various forms of radiation and chemotherapy," the statement said.

"Decisions regarding the best course of treatment for Senator Kennedy will be determined after further testing and analysis," it said. They doctors said Kennedy would remain at the hospital for the next couple of days and added: "He remains in good spirits and full of energy."

Other experts called the diagnosis a serious one and agreed the tumor would very likely kill Kennedy.

Kennedy, who has been a senator for 46 years, is one of the most respected figures in U.S. politics and news of his condition prompted a wave of shock and sympathy in Washington.

"We're pulling for our pal. And I know he is determined to fight this," said fellow Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, like Kennedy a former presidential candidate.

President George W. Bush, a Republican with many opposing political views but who worked with Kennedy on a major education bill, called him a "man of tremendous courage, remarkable strength, and powerful spirit" and said: "We join our fellow Americans in praying for his full recovery."

"MOST EFFECTIVE SENATOR"

John McCain, the Republican candidate for president in the November election and a veteran senator himself, said he was praying for Kennedy's recovery.

"I have described Ted Kennedy as the last lion in the Senate, and I have held that view because he remains the single most effective member of the Senate," he said.

Robert Byrd, 90, the West Virginia Democrat who is the longest-serving senator in history, wept on the Senate floor while discussing Kennedy's health. "I love you and I miss you," Byrd said.

Kennedy, the longest serving current senator after Byrd, is the youngest brother of the late President John Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963, and Sen. Robert Kennedy, who was shot dead in 1968.

He was airlifted to Massachusetts General Hospital on Saturday morning after being taken by ambulance to a local hospital near his family's Cape Cod vacation compound.

A malignant tumor is actively growing and will require treatment.

Dr. Lynne Taylor, a neuro-oncologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, said the hospital statement suggested Kennedy had one of two very dangerous forms of brain tumor -- either an anaplastic astrocytoma or a glioblastoma multiforme. Both usually kill within three years, sometimes within months.

"Because it is in the left parietal lobe, close to the parietal temporal lobe, that is where the speech center is and could render it unremovable," Taylor said in a telephone interview.

She said it would be important to know how large the tumor is. After two or three days staff at the hospital will know more about what type of tumor Kennedy has, she added.

The American Cancer Society estimates that around 8,400 people in the United States are diagnosed with a glioma every year. Such tumors arise from brain cells known as glial cells and can cause a range of symptoms, including the seizure Kennedy suffered.

Certain types of chemotherapy can get into the brain to attack the tumor, but highly targeted radiation is also used to directly kill the tumor cells.

(Editing by David Storey)

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