Kennedy's Prognosis: Wading Through Speculation

The news that Sen. Edward Kennedy has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor is certainly sad and difficult to read.

No matter your political persuasion, there is no denying that this man and his family have had a singular impact on this country and its politics for several generations. It goes without saying that he has been a major force in cancer research and treatment. Even recently, he led hearings into expanding federal funding for cancer research.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the senator and his family at this difficult time.

There is certain to follow a rash of speculation on the specific circumstances of the senator's diagnosis.

What we do know is that he has a primary cancer in the brain called a glioma, as opposed to a cancer in the brain that has spread from somewhere else in the body. News reports indicate that he will require treatment with radiation and chemotherapy, according to his physicians.

There are certainly more details to follow, but in reality, this is a private moment for Kennedy. It is up to him and his family to determine how much information to share, and it is up to us to avoid (or at least make an effort to downplay) the inevitable speculation that will follow.

The senator and his family have been through this decision before with their son. Now they will wrestle with the impact of this diagnosis and how much information the rest of us really need to know. Being in the public light for all these years -- through tragedies and successes -- does not mean that we have a right to every intimate detail of his illness.

I have had the opportunity in this blog and in interviews with the media to comment on the health status of various celebrities who have been diagnosed with cancer. I have always taken the position that there is much we do not know about any one person's illness. Occasionally, when offering general comments, they have been reconfigured so to appear as applying to the particular person.

To me, that is a dangerous game.

Yes, brain tumors are serious. Yes, they are difficult to treat.

There are many different forms of glioma, some more aggressive than others. The treatments differ and can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or various combinations. The outlooks differ. And there are new approaches to the treatment of certain kinds of brain cancers with newer targeted therapies that have offered hope beyond what we have seen in the past.

What we can do at this point is wish the senator well, and -- as with everyone who has been diagnosed with a brain cancer or who has a family member who has had brain cancer -- hope that his treatment is effective and that he is able to continue the legacy for which he is so well known.

Len Lichtenfeld is deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society. You can view the full blog by clicking here.

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