Tags: Cancer | Valerie Harper | brain cancer | terminal cancer | Rhoda

Valerie Harper's Cancer: Docs Say There's Little Hope

By Sylvia Booth Hubbard   |   Thursday, 07 Mar 2013 12:52 PM

Valerie Harper, the beloved star of TV's "Rhoda," is facing terminal brain cancer and may have only three months to live. Tests conducted in January showed she has leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, which is caused by cancerous cells spreading into the membrane that surrounds the brain.

"The prognosis is very poor," says Dr. Joseph P. Maroon, team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Clinical Professor of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Harper, a 73-year-old non-smoker, recently revealed that she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 and underwent surgery to remove most of one lung. Since she appeared to be cured, she didn't undergo either radiation or chemotherapy following surgery.

In January of this year, however, she feared she was having a stroke when her face began to feel numb, as though she had been given the anesthetic Novocaine. Doctors ruled out a stroke, but she underwent a battery of tests. The results were devastating — brain cancer that experts say is the result of her previous bout with cancer.

"I'm 100 percent sure her brain cancer is the result of lung cancer," says Dr. Erika Schwartz, the chief medical officer of AgeMD and an internationally recognized patients’ advocate. "Leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, which simply means metastatic cancer of the covering of the brain, is associated with a relapse of cancer somewhere else in the body, and it can occur at any stage of any cancer," Dr. Schwartz tells Newsmax Health. "In her case, it's a late complication of lung cancer."

Dr. Maroon agrees that Harper's brain cancer is most likely a result of her lung cancer. "This type of cancer is most often caused by breast, lung, and melanoma cancers," he tells Newsmax Health. "The tumors are spread by the blood to the covering of the brain. Once it diffuses and covers the brain, it can spread into the brain itself and the spinal cord.

Urgent: This Small Group of Doctors is Quietly Curing Cancer

"A CT scan or MRI may show evidence of the cancer by diffuse contrast enhancement, but it's most often diagnosed by lumbar puncture, which confirms the presence of cancer cells."

Dr. Maroon believes that the feeling of being anesthetized Harper complained of in January is probably related to her cancer. "It could be stimulating certain areas of the brain and lead to that type of feeling.

"Median survival is four to six weeks, but with chemotherapy and radiation, median survival is four to six months," says Dr. Maroon. "But if the cancer responds to therapy, she could live longer."

Harper's disease can cause devastating side effects. "It causes inflammation of the brain that could lead to seizures, intense headaches, and requires pain medication and sedation at times," Dr. Maroon said.

Although Harper is opting to undergo chemotherapy, the outlook is grim, says Dr. Maroon. "Chemotherapy and radiation are used to prolong the patient's life, but there are very few times, if at all, this is cured."

Could she have avoided cancer? Who knows? says Dr. Maroon. But since 50 percent of cancers are due to environmental factors, he says, everyone can lower their risk of suffering a similar fate by leading a healthy lifestyle. "Poor diet, lack of exercise, stress ... all of these can suppress our immune system and lead to the development of cancer."

Although the disease is associated with high mortality, Harper could live much longer than three months, according to Dr. Schwartz, and she rejects the practice of telling patients "how much time they have left."

"If I were doing fortune telling, I could give you a number," she says. "Any person who gives you a number either thinks they're God or they're into fortune telling. No doctor should ever be in a position to tell you how much time you have to live. The minute they say a person has three months left, they're dooming that person — they die in three months. If you tell someone they're going to live forever, they'll probably live a lot longer."

Can Dr. Schwartz offer any advice to Harper? "There are holistic experts in cancer who
specialize in integrating alternative methods in the treatment of cancer, and don't just
leave it to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I believe that people who go that route
are more likely to have better outcomes than those who rely just on conventional
medicine, but it depends on what she wants. I'm the eternal optimist."

Urgent: This Small Group of Doctors is Quietly Curing Cancer

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