Sen. Frank Lautenberg, at 86 the nation's second oldest U.S. senator, has curable lymphoma of the stomach, his office said Friday. Doctors for the Democrat found B-cell lymphoma that will require treatment over the next few months, spokesman Caley Gray said in a news release. He will not be resigning, Gray said.
Independent doctors agree that Lautenberg's type of lymphoma is usually treatable.
Lautenberg will undergo six to eight chemotherapy treatments and should make a "full and complete recovery," said Dr. James Holland of New York City's Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Lautenberg was taken to the hospital Monday after his office said he fell. The office said Tuesday the senator was treated for a bleeding ulcer, and Gray said Friday the lymphoma was found in the ulcer.
Lautenberg is expected to return to work at the Senate between treatments, Holland said.
"I wouldn't be too surprised to soon hear how he's once again outpacing younger aides as they walk through U.S. Capitol building," said state Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, a Democrat.
Lautenberg told The Star-Ledger of Newark late Friday that he underwent his first chemotherapy treatment earlier in the day and was "feeling very good."
Lautenberg said he intends to return to Washington to complete his term. "My contract goes to 2014," he said.
A resignation could hurt the Democratic Party. Under New Jersey law, Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, would be able to appoint a replacement if a senator left office.
After Christie was elected governor in November, some Democratic state lawmakers moved to change the way Senate vacancies are filled so the governor would have to name a replacement from the party of the departing senator. They did not adopt the change.
If there is a vacancy, the governor could name a replacement of his choice, call for a special election or leave the seat open until the next regular general election.
In the state's political circles Friday, there wasn't open talk of a Lautenberg resignation. Politicians of both parties wished him a quick recovery.
"I'm encouraged by the positive statements of his doctors, and I am confident that Frank will be back in the Senate fighting for New Jersey soon," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, also a Democrat, called Lautenberg "New Jersey tough."
"My thoughts and prayers are with Sen. Lautenberg," he said, "and I look forward to fighting for New Jersey families together with him for years to come."
Assemblyman Jay Webber, chairman of New Jersey's Republican State Committee, said it's "inappropriate" to talk about filling the seat should Lautenberg be unable to finish his term.
Patrick Murray, a Monmouth University political scientist, said a Lautenberg resignation would mean that New Jersey would have its first Republican senator since Nicholas F. Brady served for eight months after being appointed to fill a vacancy. Lautenberg replaced him. The state hasn't elected a Republican U.S. senator since 1976.
"Three of the four elected statewide offices in New Jersey would be held by Republicans, which would be an oddity," said Murray, who doesn't think Lautenberg would resign unless he had to.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said another Republican in the Senate would make it harder for Democrats to get the 60 votes they need to block a filibuster. There are now 59 Democrats in the Senate.
"It's that much harder to get two Republican defections instead of one," he said.
The liberal Lautenberg, born in Paterson, became prominent as a founder of the payroll services company Automatic Data Processing long before he entered politics in 1982 with a successful run for the U.S. Senate.
He retired from politics and did not seek re-election in 2000, but returned two years later as a last-minute replacement in a Senate race when Sen. Robert Torricelli dropped out. He was re-elected in 2008, winning easily in a race in which his age never materialized as a major issue.
He is a major supporter of gun control and a big critic of the tobacco industry. He's also active in transportation issues. Lately, he has criticized the Transportation Security Administration over a disruptive security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Lymphoma is an immune system cancer, and the B-cell form is a type of the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that strikes more than 65,000 people in the U.S. annually. There are multiple subtypes of the B-cell form, with widely varying treatments and prognoses. Lymphomas can strike in lymph tissue anywhere in the body, such as the lymph nodes — and the stomach contains lymphoid tissue.
Gray said the lymphoma is isolated to Lautenberg's stomach.
Dr. Andre Goy, deputy director of the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey and an expert on lymphoma, said the prognosis is favorable for the majority of patients diagnosed with Lautenberg's type of lymphoma.
He said geriatric patients are at higher risk of developing infection or suffering other complications from the chemotherapy drugs, but those risks are lessened in patients who are active, like Lautenberg.
"If they are active and have good supportive care, they usually do well," Goy said.
Dr. Thomas Witzig, a Mayo Clinic hematologist, said he believes Lautenberg has "a real good chance" for a full recovery. He also said the chemotherapy treatment should not keep Lautenberg from performing his senate duties.
"Even at his age, the outlook is good," Witzig said. "It helps that he has a sedentary job, and I don't see why he can't continue leading his regular life while he's receiving chemotherapy."
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