May 20, 2008 -- The prognosis is not clear for Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who doctors today said has a malignant brain tumor; experts say it is among the most common and deadliest form of brain cancer.
According to a statement today from Drs. Lee Schwamm, vice chairman of neurology, and Larry Ronan, Kennedy's primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, doctors found the tumor during a course of tests following a seizure the 76-year-old senator suffered Saturday morning.
"Preliminary results from a biopsy of the brain identified the cause of the seizure as a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe," the statement reads.
Dr. Lynne Taylor, fellow at the American Academy of Neurology, notes that the parietal lobe is located above the left ear and is known to be the area where the speech center sits.
"The fact that [surgery] wasn't their first step might imply that it was close to the speech center," Taylor said.
Surgery would be seen as good news for Kennedy for two reasons. First, it would mean that the tumor could be removed from the brain without damaging surrounding brain tissue. And second, it would mean that doctors have hope that removing the tumor would give Kennedy a significantly better shot at survival.
According to the National Cancer Institute, malignant gliomas make up more than half of the 18,000 primary malignant brain tumors diagnosed in the United States each year.
While doctors have yet to indicate the stage of Kennedy's tumor, for patients who have moderately severe versions of this type of tumor, the median survival time is three to five years. This means that half of patients with tumors found at this stage survive longer, while half do not survive as long. For patients with the most aggressive form of the tumor, median survival is less than a year.
Schwamm and Ronan said in their statement that the usual course of treatment "includes combinations of various forms of radiation and chemotherapy." There is at yet no indication as to whether surgery will be performed to try to remove the tumor; such an announcement would indicate a more positive prognosis.
According to the statement, Kennedy will remain hospitalized for the next couple of days.
"He remains in good spirits and full of energy," the doctors note.
Kirk Fernandes and Joanna Schaffhausen contributed to this story.