Entries in Joe Paterno (2)


Could Stress Have Spurred Joe Paterno‚Äôs Rapid Demise?

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Joe Paterno once said he’d die without football in his life. Now, only 74 days after he was fired as head football coach at Penn State University, where the beloved coach stood on the field for 62 seasons, Paterno has died of complications from lung cancer.  Some experts say the stress brought on by the child sex allegations against Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s longtime assistant at Penn, last November could have sped up Paterno’s demise.

“I believe stress can have a profound effect on one’s overall health and outcomes,” said Dr. Edward Kim, associate professor of thoracic head and neck oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “My personal observations have been that those patients who have positive attitudes and understand their disease tend to do better overall.”

When the Penn State child sex scandal in which Sandusky was accused of 40 counts of child molestation broke two months ago, many said Paterno could and should have done more to protect the boys whom Sandusky allegedly attacked. After the incident hit headlines in November, Paterno said he was “absolutely devastated” by the allegations against Sandusky.

“Mr. Paterno seemed to have a very grounded attitude about life,” said Kim. “He was very loyal to football, Penn State and to himself. My thoughts are that once football ended, he felt a sense of conclusion to his life, and this certainly could have contributed to his overall condition. I have enormous respect for people who can delineate these items with practicality and dignity.”

Nevertheless, Paterno’s health was declining and lung cancer can be a ferocious disease.  The harsh side effects of chemotherapy and radiation make it difficult to treat cancer patients over the age of 80, said experts. While age alone is not used to make cancer treatment decisions, elderly people are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses that may make it difficult to tolerate the aggressive treatments.

“Even if Joe Paterno’s will to live was not damaged by the scandal, the immense stress from the chaos in his life would have certainly weakened him in his fight against cancer,” said Dr. Albert Levy, assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. “Chemotherapy is a harsh treatment method on its own. On an elderly 85-year-old person and someone debilitated emotionally, it would have an even greater impact on his prognosis.”

Paterno’s family announced that the former coach died of metastatic small cell carcinoma of the lung. Relatives decided to withdraw life support Sunday.

“Lung cancer is a devastating disease, and it is my hope that age of patients becomes less important,” said Kim. “Through continued research and clinical trials, we hope to identity specific characteristics about individual patients in order to give them the best most effective therapy.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Joe Paterno's 'Treatable' Lung Cancer: What It Means

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The family of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno says the lung cancer with which he has been diagnosed is a "treatable form" -- though statistics suggest that even in the best of circumstances, the disease poses a serious threat.

"Last weekend my father was diagnosed with a treatable form of lung cancer during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness," Paterno's son Scott said in a statement issued Friday. "He is currently undergoing treatment and his doctors are optimistic that he will make a full recovery."

Last week, Penn State's board of trustees fired Paterno, the winningest coach in the history of NCAA Division 1 football, in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal surrounding his defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. Paterno, considered a legend by many tied to the school, has been embroiled in the scandal based on suggestions that he knew of Sandusky's alleged behavior and failed to do what was necessary to properly report it.

The suggestion that Paterno's cancer is treatable, if true, suggests that it was caught in its early stages before it had a chance to spread. According to statistics from the National Cancer Institute, 52.5 percent of patients whose lung cancer is detected before it has spread are alive five years after it is found.

But only 15 percent of patients are lucky enough to have their cancer detected this early -- and the numbers drop precipitously from there. For the 22 percent of patients whose cancer is only detected after it has spread to the lymph nodes, the chance of being alive five years later is 24.3 percent. And for the 56 percent whose cancer has metastasized, the five-year survival rate is only 3.6 percent.

The upshot: The cancer is far more likely to be in a treatable form for less than four in 10 patients -- and even then, it can be an uphill battle.

At least 20 of the nation's top medical centers are trying to beat this curve by setting up lung cancer screening programs using computerized tomography, or CT. Through these programs, patients considered to be at high risk of lung cancer can be screened, hopefully allowing doctors to detect their disease as early as possible, before it has a chance to spread.

The approach just might work, at least according to research released in June and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The results of the seven-year study offer the first solid evidence that screening with CT scans could reduce lung cancer deaths by as much as 20 percent in high-risk groups, such as heavy smokers older than 55.

Another important factor in the survivability of lung cancer is whether the cancer is classified as "small cell" or "non-small cell." Of these, small cell is the more aggressive. According to NCI data, patients who are diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer tend to have a better chance of survival, at least when the cancer is caught in its earlier stages. In this area, the numbers are slightly more forgiving: Only about 15 percent of the estimated 221,130 Americans who will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year will have the small cell variety, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio