University of Rochester

President Joel Seligman Explains Diagnosis of 'Treatable Cancer'

August 21, 2007

University of Rochester President Joel Seligman announced today that he has been diagnosed with a treatable and curable form of lymphoma. In a message to the University community, he described his illness, treatment, and optimism about the future.

"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," he began. "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, Aug. 10, I saw my personal physician at the Medical Center, who on Aug. 11 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."