Bryant Gumbel Reveals Battle With Lung Cancer

Regis Philbin fill-in revealed his battle on-air with Kelly Ripa.

December 8, 2009, 11:02 AM

Dec. 8, 2009— -- On this morning's "Live! with Regis and Kelly," television personality Bryant Gumbel, who has been filling in for Regis Philbin as co-host of the morning talk show, disclosed that he had surgery on his lung two months ago to remove a tumor.

After re-introducing Gumbel as her temporary co-host, Kelly Ripa said Gumbel had revealed something backstage that made her "almost faint."

Ripa had been discussing her excitement about working out on the show with guest Julianne Hough of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" when Gumbel said he could not participate, explaining he had a note from his doctor.

"It's nothing to run from, it's just that I've not made it public," Gumbel said. "Two months ago I had cancer surgery."

While Gumbel has not said specifically what type of lung cancer he had, his case may serve as a stark reminder of the long-term damage associated with smoking -- even after years without a cigarette. By his own admission, Gumbel was a three-pack-a-day smoker for 10 years, but said he quit more than 30 years before his cancer diagnosis.

"I kept it private," Gumbel said of his cancer treatment, noting that he had told only a few people, and had chosen not to disclose his treatment, even to producers at his current regular post on HBO's "Real Sports."

"It's nothing to hide from," Gumbel added. "They opened up my chest, they took a malignant tumor and they took part of my lung and they took some other goodies. And the pathology on most of the stuff had been benign, but enough aggressive cells had escaped the tumor that it warranted some treatment and I went through that and it's done now."

Gumbel said through his producers at "Real Sports" that he did not wish to comment further on his condition at this time.

Gumbel, 61, served for 15 years as co-host of NBC's "The Today Show" until he left in 1997.

While Gumbel's prognosis is unclear based on details he provided, doctors say his prognosis is good, if only because his tumor was operable.

"The most important thing in lung cancer is surgery, because surgery can be curative in patients with lung cancer," said Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of the department of hematology/oncology at Ochsner in Baton Rouge, La.

"Depending on the extent of the cancer afterwards, whether chemotherapy can be offered is also the standard of care," he said. "It sounds like he had a cancer that was removed, but he has not received any [long-term] additional therapy afterwards."

However, he noted, "Surgery for early stage lung cancer is really the best stage of action. The majority of men who are diagnosed with early stage lung cancer who undergo surgery can be cured of their cancer."

Smoking Questions

One important factor in Gumbel's long-term prognosis is possible tobacco use.

Brooks noted that, "at least 90 percent of men who develop lung cancer have a smoking history."

When he was an anchor for CBS News, Gumbel said on November 12, 2001 that he used to smoke but had quit, according to a transcript from "The Early Show."

"I was a bad smoker. I was three packs a day..." Gumbel said to co-anchor Jane Clayson.

When she asked for how long, Gumbel replied, "Probably about 10 years, until May 2, '77."

A 1992 article in the trade magazine Media Industry News about the launch of the magazine Cigar Aficionado said Gumbel was among a group of "celebrity smokers" the magazine might profile.

The magazine did not respond to a request for comment, but a search of its archives did not reveal any articles about possible tobacco use by Gumbel in the time since its launch.

"Lung cancer has a high risk of relapse," said Dr. Lucas Wong, an oncologist at Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, Texas.

And smoking plays a major role in the possibility of such a relapse.

"The important thing is, if he was a smoker, that he stop smoking," said Brooks.

He noted that prognosis for lung cancer caught in the early stages tends to be much better, a fact that has led to more emphasis on developing ways to catch cancers sooner.

"We are constantly trying to find ways to detect cancer in an earlier stage," said Brooks, noting recent study in ways, such as blood tests, that doctors are trying to find markers for lung cancer.

With the information that is available, there is only so much that can be determined about Gumbel's outlook. But the bottom line, said Brooks, is that the positive face Gumbel presented on "Regis and Kelly" is probably warranted.

"The good news is he's had surgery, it sounds as though the cancer has been removed, and he looks healthy enough to do a TV, show, which is a good sign," he said.

ABC News information specialist Nicholas Tucker contributed to this story.

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