Paul Allen Diagnosed with Cancer

11/16/09

[Updated 11/16/09 6pm. See below] Microsoft co-founder and renowned technologist Paul Allen has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer, as of early this month, according to an e-mail message sent from Allen’s sister, Jody Allen Patton, to employees of Seattle-based Vulcan and its affiliates this afternoon. The message was sent to Xconomy and other media outlets by a Vulcan spokesperson.

Doctors say Allen has diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, which is a relatively common form of lymphoma, and he has begun chemotherapy, according to the e-mail. The message pointed out that Allen “beat Hodgkin’s a little more than 25 years ago and he is optimistic he can beat this, too.” That form of cancer is different from Allen’s current diagnosis, which is classified as a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is an umbrella term for cancers in which white blood cells of the immune system start growing out of control, according to the National Cancer Institute. The disease is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. each year, following lung, bladder, and melanoma tumors, according to the American Cancer Society. About 66,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed this year in the U.S., and about 19,500 people are expected to die from the disease. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is the most common subtype of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, accounting for 30 percent of all newly diagnosed cases, according to an expert review published by the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

Vulcan spokesman David Postman wouldn’t comment on any specific questions about the stage of Allen’s disease, how early it was detected, whether it is an aggressive or slow-growing form of lymphoma, or where he is getting treatment.

Those questions are key to determining what kind of prognosis Allen has. His form of cancer is generally considered an aggressive, fast-growing lymphoma and requires immediate treatment, according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation’s description, authored by Carol Portlock of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Julie Vose of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, NE, and Bruce Cheson of Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C. The first sign is usually when the lymph nodes swell in the neck, armpit, or groin—other symptoms include night sweats, unexplained fevers, and weight loss, according to the summary from Portlock and colleagues.

A common treatment for the disease is a regimen of chemotherapy combined with Roche and Biogen’s targeted antibody drug rituximab (Rituxan), which kills excess B-cells of the immune system. The combination treatment can lead to a cure in a large number of patients. “Even when a cure is not possible, treatment can often keep the disease away for many years,” Portlock wrote.

“Paul is feeling OK and remains upbeat,” the Vulcan message stated. “He continues to work and he has no plans to change his role at Vulcan. His health comes first, though, and we’ll be sure that nothing intrudes on that.”

Here is the Vulcan e-mail in its entirety [added 11/16/09 6pm]:

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To employees of Vulcan and affiliates:

I want to let you know that Paul was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

He received the diagnosis early this month and has begun chemotherapy. Doctors say he has diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a relatively common form of lymphoma.

This is tough news for Paul and the family. But for those who know Paul’s story, you know he beat Hodgkin’s a little more than 25 years ago and he is optimistic he can beat this, too.

Paul is feeling OK and remains upbeat. He continues to work and he has no plans to change his role at Vulcan. His health comes first, though, and we’ll be sure that nothing intrudes on that.

We would ask you to respect Paul’s privacy and not discuss this outside of the office.

If you have any questions, please ask your EC member.

Thank you in advance for what I know will be all your good thoughts for Paul.
Jody

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Luke Timmerman is Xconomy's National Biotechnology Editor. Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's National IT Editor. Follow @

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  • AL RAINWATER

    Good luck Paul I have won with my battle of cancer so far you can do it also just stay postive an as you know the sleepest nights are the worst when your mind runs an you cant sleep good luck I will say a prayer for you each day