Maryland governor announces he has 'very aggressive' cancer

WUSA-TV and Karen Weintraub, Special to USA TODAY
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks during a news conference about his cancer diagnosis in Annapolis, Md., on Monday, June 22, 2015.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer.

He was surrounded by his family when he made the announcement at a press conference on Monday.

Hogan, 59, will not step down as governor. He said he may miss a few meetings, but he will continue to work while he receives his treatment. Hogan said Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford will step up and do more when he can't be present.

"The good news is that I've learned that, although this cancer I have is a very aggressive one and it's spread very rapidly, it's also one that responds very aggressively to chemotherapy treatment," Hogan said.

Hogan joked that the odds of beating this form of cancer, which he described as "very advanced," are better than the odds of beating Anthony Brown, his opponent in the governor's race. He said his chance of survival is strong.

The governor will undergo multiple rounds of aggressive chemotherapy in the coming months to treat the cancer. Hogan said he did not show any symptoms but discovered a lump in his neck while shaving.

"Most likely I'm going to lose my hair. I won't have these beautiful gray locks," he joked. He said he will beat the disease and be a better, stronger person and governor on the other side.

Hogan said he has been feeling fine and is not in terrible pain. He missed scheduled appearances last week because of various doctor's appointments.

His form of cancer, while aggressive, is considered readily treatable, particularly when caught early.

"It's not 100% curable, but the success rate is quite good," said Eric Jacobsen, clinical director of the adult lymphoma program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, adding that 60%-90% of patients go on to have a normal lifespan.

Lymphomas start in the immune system, where cells copy themselves too many times or don't die off when they should, Jacobsen said.

Hogan's cancer is called diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, because it starts in immune cells known as B cells, which fight invading bacteria and viruses. This type of lymphoma is the most common subtype, accounting for about a third of the 69,000 non-Hodgkin's lymphomas diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

There are no clear causes of this type of cancer, Jacobsen said.

In early stages, such cancer can be treated with a short course of chemo and radiation, but Hogan has said he has either stage 3 or stage 4 disease, which indicates that it has already spread throughout half or all of his body.

The most common treatment for his stage is an 18-week course of a cocktail of chemotherapy and other drugs, most of which are delivered intravenously, Jacobsen said. That means Hogan will likely spend one day every three weeks getting treatment.

Jacobsen described Hogan's lack of obvious symptoms as common for lymphoma patients.

Many patients continue to work during their chemotherapy, said Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, though they might miss a few days right around each treatment.

Catching lymphoma early generally means a better prognosis. Brawley, also a professor at Emory University, said his patients who fare the best are those who are otherwise healthy, haven't smoked and are in good physical shape. "That's how you optimize your chances of a good outcome coming through this."

Hogan, a Republican, has only been in office since January following his upset win over Brown, the Democratic lieutenant governor at the time.

Following Hogan's announcement, Brown tweeted that he was wishing for "strength and a swift recovery" for Hogan.