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Tsongas Confirms Cancerous Growth

By Christopher B. Daly
The Washington Post

BOSTON

Paul E. Tsongas, the former Democratic Massachusetts senator who was the first known cancer survivor to campaign for the presidency, confirmed Monday that he has a cancerous growth in his abdomen requiring further radiation and chemotherapy.

Tsongas, 51, had described himself as "cured" from a bout with lymphoma first diagnosed in 1983, but his health remained a nagging issue in the campaign. Tsongas said President-elect Clinton should create a commission that would establish guidelines for presidential candidates to release medical information. Tsongas said he now believes there is no alternative to full disclosure of actual medical records, and said he would release his entire medical history as an example.

The cancerous growth in his abdomen, which he described as a "large-cell lymphoma," has not spread to other parts of his body, Tsongas said. His doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute here believe that the cancerous mass can be treated.

The growth was discovered in August as part of Tsongas' regular follow-up health care. Further tests indicated the need for a biopsy, which was performed Nov. 19.

At a press conference in the offices of his Boston law firm attended by his wife, Niki, and several aides, Tsongas confirmed recent press reports that the biopsied material was cancerous. He plans to begin chemotherapy this week.

"I intend to swim in the Nationals this year. There is no reason why not," Tsongas said, referring to the national swim tournament he has competed in before. "This is my tenth year of having this adversary. So I'm very comfortable with it."

In September 1983, while serving as a freshman senator, Tsongas was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects the lymph system. Citing his desire to be with his family, the young Democrat chose not to seek re-election to a second term in 1984.

Instead, he returned to Boston and underwent a then-experimental form of treatment known as "autologous bone marrow transplant." Under the care of Drs. George Canellos and Tak Takvorian, Tsongas had marrow removed from his hip and purified. With his marrow out, he was treated with whole-body radiation in an effort to kill all the cancerous cells in his body.

Later, the marrow was reinjected, and Tsongas made an impressive recovery. As a presidential candidate, he made a point of demonstrating his good health by walking and swimming. Tsongas also he spoke at length about his illness and treatment and asked his doctors to do the same.

In an interview with The Washington Post in November 1991, Tsongas said he considered himself "cured," because he had been cancer-free for more than five years. In separate interviews, his doctors declined to use the term "cured," but they said Tsongas had been disease-free since he was discharged in October 1986 and that they could find no medical problems.

In the 1991 Post interview, Tsongas noted that in 1987 "they found a node in my armpit, and to this day they disagree on what it was but they pulled me in for a mass of radiation." Some Boston news media described the node as a recurrence of cancer.

In April, 12 days after Tsongas suspended his Democratic presidential campaign, The New York Times depicted the 1987 node as a "recurrence" of Tsongas' cancer and suggested that the candidate and his doctors had been less than fully candid.

Tsongas' doctors said in April that it was unclear whether the node, which was treated with radiation, was a recurrence or a batch of residual malignant cells from the original case that had escaped treatment. In any case, they said he remained healthy.

At his press conference Monday, Tsongas said it remained "a little unclear" whether the newly detected malignant growth in his abdomen is a fresh case of cancer, a recurrence, or something else. His doctors were not available for further questioning.

Tsongas spoke angrily Monday about news reports that have suggested that he or his doctors hid any important medical information from the American people during his campaign.

The former senator said he still suffered from another affliction -- presidential ambition.

"The last living cell that will die in my body is the desire to be president of the United States. And there is no treatment for it," he said. Tsongas said the newly detected growth would not prevent him from running for president again, but he said the whole subject was speculative. He said he expects Clinton to have a long run in the White House.