Doctor: Sen. Lautenberg's Prognosis Looks Good

After several days in the hospital, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg – the nation’s second-oldest senator – has been diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma of the stomach.

The senator’s doctor, Dr. James F. Holland, of Mount Sinai Medical Center, said Lautenberg, 86, will receive six to eight chemotherapy treatments approximately every three weeks, and he will continue to work in-between treatments.

According to the American Cancer Society's Web site, B-cell lymphomas make up about 85 percent of non-Hodgkin lymphomas in the U.S. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma usually starts in the lymph nodes, or other parts of the body’s immune system, such as the spleen or bone marrow, according to the ACS. B-cells typically aid in protecting the body against bacteria or viruses by making antibodies.

Dr. Manny Alvarez, managing health editor of, answered some questions about Lautenberg’s stomach cancer.

Q: What do you think the Senator’s prognosis is?

A: The B-cell lymphoma has very good cure rate — by chemo, sometimes radiation – and with any type of lymphoma you also have to take into account the underlying medical condition of the patient. If he has underlying diseases, it could be problematic.

According to the ACS, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma mostly occurs in older people, and it is possible that it can spread to other organs, such as the brain or spinal cord.

Q: Is this form of cancer curable?

A: It is, but it is predicated on stages – stage I through IV – and that has implications as to what kind of tumor has spread and if it’s spread to other nodes. So it all depends on the stage of the cancer. (The stage of Lautenberg’s cancer is not yet known).

Approximately three out of four people will not have signs of the disease after their first treatment, according to the ACS, and about half of patients of with this kind of lymphoma are cured.

Q: Will the senator’s age play a part in his prognosis?

A: Typically, the evolution of cancer in people of older age is that it tends to be less aggressive than cancer that is in a much younger person. I think age can be in his favor.

Q: What kind of treatments are available to the senator?

A: There’s chemotherapy and radiation, but there are also some newer types of treatment, like monoclonal antibody therapy.

Q: What kind of symptoms might Sen. Lautenberg be having?

A: The most common symptom is swollen lymph nodes that are found upon physical exam, weight loss, abdominal pain, and some people complain of chest pains or difficulty catching their breath.

Q: Will he have to make modifications to his lifestyle?

A: Certainly during the treatment, doctors will probably make sure he’s getting adequate nutrition and enough rest as this is going to affect his overall immune system.

Q: Is it feasible for the senator to continue working?

A: Most people can work, but maybe after two or three treatments, he might not feel so strong. But there’s no contraindication for him not to work.