University of Rochester

Office of the President

Office of the President

A Personal Message from the President

August 21, 2007

To: The University Community

I'm writing to let you know that within the past few days I have been diagnosed with a treatable and curable form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Our excellent cancer specialists here tell me that the specific type of Lymphoma that I have should not have significant long term impact on my ability to continue service to the University of Rochester. But this is a form of cancer, and I want to communicate to you what I now know about the disease, the diagnosis, the prognosis, and the likely treatment.

Aside from a lump in my neck about which I became aware during the last few weeks, I have no symptoms. On Friday, August 10th, I saw my personal physician at the Medical Center, who on August 11th began a series of diagnostic tests. Over the next few days, these tests included a CT scan, PET scan, fine needle aspiration, and a biopsy of the lump.

The diagnosis that ultimately was made is termed B Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. B Cell Non-Hodgkins lymphomas are preferable to the more dangerous T Cell lymphomas.

I specifically have what is called Follicular Large B Cell and Diffuse Large B Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Test results indicate that the disease is localized in a single location on the right side of my neck and can be characterized as “early onset” or “stage one” lymphoma.

The prognosis for this type of lymphoma in an otherwise healthy patient is very favorable. Dr. Richard Fisher, who will be treating me and is the Director of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, is a national expert in lymphomas. Data that he and others have collected indicates that the ten year survival rate for a patient such as me is approximately 85 percent, and the five year survival rate is higher.

Treatment will involve three or four chemotherapy sessions scheduled at three week intervals and radiation therapy. The course of treatment is likely to occur over a four to six month period. During that period I will need to take a few days off for the treatment but otherwise should be able to fulfill my responsibilities as President. I likely will lose my hair, but the side effects generally are manageable. After the treatment, I will meet with Rich Fisher and others for periodic checkups. There is a high probability that the cancer will be “cured” or eradicated within the next several months.

To be sure, there may be surprises, but I am very optimistic about this prognosis and look forward to beginning the therapy within the next few days.

Before the therapy does begin, I will receive a second opinion at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City, and will go through a few more tests including a bone marrow biopsy.

This was a surprise to me, but I have found that as I ask questions and learn more, the basic points that I now know are quite reassuring. This is a treatable form of cancer. While the term cancer is a scary one, once you parse through the word to the underlying diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment, this is manageable.

My first priority will be to address my health. But I am confident that I can address this disease and continue the wonderful adventure we have begun together at the U of R.

G. Robert Witmer, President Seligman, and Richard Fisher at news conference
Board of Trustees Chairman G. Robert Witmer Jr. '59, President Seligman, and Dr. Richard Fisher at a news conference August 21 announcing Seligman's diagnosis of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Background on Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

What is Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma?
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is cancer of the lymphoid tissue, a part of the lymphatic, or immune system. It is sometimes just called lymphoma. Other types of cancer—such as lung or colon cancers—can develop in other organs and spread to the lymphoid tissue. But lymphomas originate in the lymph system itself. There are two main types of lymphomas: Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. There are at least 30 different types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, each of which has a different clinical course and genetics.

Exactly what type of lymphoma does Mr. Seligman have?
The type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosed in the University's president is known as Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma.

How is it diagnosed?
The diagnosis is made by performing a lymph node biopsy. A pathologist experienced in diagnosing lymphomas examines the sample to make the diagnosis. In addition, blood tests are done to check blood counts, organ function and other factors that may indicate a problem. In addition, a PET or CT scan of the body are ordered to determine if there are other enlarged lymph nodes.

How far advanced is his disease?
Fortunately, President Seligman's illness was caught very early. Wilmot Cancer Center physicians say that Mr. Seligman is at stage 1A, meaning that it has been caught early and his prognosis is very optimistic.

Can it be treated? If so, how?
This particular form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is very treatable. In fact, studies put the five-year survival rate as high as 90%. Treatment for early stage Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma generally involves 3 or 4 cycles of chemotherapy followed by localized radiation.

How common is Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma?
Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma is the most common type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and represents about 35% of all cases.

What is his prognosis?
Most patients with this particular form and stage of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma respond well to chemotherapy and radiation. Five-year survival rates are around 90%.

How will this illness affect his ability to manage and lead the University? 
Most patients who receive this course of treatment are able to continue to work throughout the therapy. We expect that Mr. Seligman will as well, although he will be encouraged to slow down and get plenty of rest to maintain his strength.

—Richard Fisher, M.D.
Director, Wilmot Cancer Center