A Quick Note About Carter’s Cancer

We seem to be getting daily updates about the condition of former President Jimmy Carter. The news in this morning’s paper was that his cancer has spread to his brain. And, curiously, that the spots on his brain were found during surgery on his liver. I guess when you’re a Nobel winner you get the super-duper scans.

At any rate, the interesting thing is that he doesn’t have brain cancer. Instead, he has melanoma (a form of skin cancer) in his brain. That’s the way cancer works. When, for example, breast cancer spreads to the liver, the person doesn’t now have liver cancer. Instead, they have breast cancer in both the breast and the liver. The cells spread through the lymphatic and circulatory systems, taking root where they will. Fortunately, a treatment that’s successful against the original cancer has a good chance of success against the metastatic site.

As I mentioned in an earlier post on sun safety, melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. President Carter’s melanoma is considered Stage IV, meaning that it has spread to another organ. The statistics are grim: only 15-20% of patients survive another 5 years, and just 10-15% make it for 10 years. His chances are improved by the fact that he’s receiving a novel combination of drugs that has shown promise in melanoma. His chances are diminished because he is, after all, 90 years old. (But don’t forget, his mother, Lillian, lived to age 85. He comes from hardy stock.)

Jimmy Carter is a good man. He’s a wonderful model for life after your “career” is over. I wish him the best.


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