Former President Jimmy Carter on Wednesday announced he has cancer, which doctors discovered during elective liver surgery a few weeks ago. So far, it is not known what type of cancer Carter has. Representatives for the 90-year-old have said more information will be released soon, but for the time being, he is undergoing treatment in Atlanta. The announcement mentioned that the cancer has spread to other parts of Carter's body, and while the liver is not usually a primary source of cancer, it is often an area where the disease can spread, doctors told The Associated Press.
Carter's age and the type of cancer he has will be among the factors to determine what type of treatment he receives, and so will the state of his health. Dr. Lodovico Balducci, a cancer specialist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, told the AP that since Carter tolerated the liver surgery which led to the cancer's discovery, he may be able to tolerate some cancer treatments, despite his advanced age.
But unfortunately, since the cancer has spread, or in other words, is metastatic, it's unlikely it is curable, whatever type it is. While cancer in a man of Carter's age is very serious, Balducci said, "that does not mean a 90-year-old cannot benefit from treatment."
Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN said Carter's risk of pancreatic cancer is significant, since that's the form of the disease that killed the former president's father, brother and two sisters. Carter's mother had breast cancer which spread to her pancreas, according to CNN. In his latest book "A Full Life," Carter wrote about his family's cancer struggles, and noted since he was the only one among his family who did not smoke, it may have contributed to his longevity.
Until more is known about what type of cancer Carter has and exactly how widespread it is, it's difficult to speculate too much about what the former president's outcome might be. The announcement about Carter's cancer indicated that "a more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week." If it is pancreatic cancer, it is likely to spread quickly, and the focus would be on keeping Carter comfortable.
If it is a less aggressive form of the disease, his doctors may plan a course of treatment. But doctors say Carter's age is a significant factor, regardless of what type of cancer he is facing. That may be the biggest determinant of what Carter's long-term prognosis may be.