Red Sox lefty Lester diagnosed with form of lymphoma

Updated: September 3, 2006, 4:59 PM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox rookie pitcher Jon Lester has a form of lymphoma and will start treatment in the coming week, the team said Friday.

Jon Lester
Lester

Enlarged lymph nodes were identified when Lester, 22, was tested to determine the cause of back pain that sent him to the disabled list last Monday. The club said Friday he has a treatable form of anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a type of cancer that forms in the body's lymph system.

Manager Terry Francona visited Lester in the hospital Thursday morning and several players commented later that day, before the diagnosis was announced. He also met with the team about an hour before Friday's 2-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

WebMD: Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is cancer of the cells of the lymphatic system. In non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, cells in the lymphatic system divide and grow without order or control, or old cells do not die as cells normally do. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can start almost anywhere in the body. It may occur in a single lymph node, in a group of lymph nodes, or in an organ such as the spleen. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can spread to almost any part of the body, including the liver, bone marrow, and spleen.

Over time, lymphoma cells replace the normal cells in the bone marrow. This causes bleeding problems and infections. As the lymphoma cells spread, the body becomes less and less able to produce blood cells that carry oxygen to other tissues or to protect itself from infection.

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is different from Hodgkin's lymphoma and occurs about eight times more often.

For more on Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, visit WebMD by clicking here.

"It was pretty quiet. That's part of our family in here and we're all astonished," reliever Mike Timlin said.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon, who came up through the minors with Lester, said Friday, "they say it's curable or treatable and they're expecting him to be at spring training with us next year."

On Thursday, pitcher Curt Schilling referred to the melanoma his wife dealt with several years ago.

"Having been in a situation where cancer was an operative word, it's an incredibly scary thing," Schilling said. "You're talking about a kid at the beginning of his life."

Lester, a left-hander, is 7-2 with a 4.76 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 81 1/3 innings.

He was called up to the majors for the first time June 10, when he started in a 7-4 loss to Texas. He wasn't involved in the decision. He improved to 5-0 with a 1-0 victory at Kansas City on July 18.

On Saturday, the Red Sox purchased the contract Saturday of right-handed pitcher Kevin Jarvis from Triple-A Pawtucket and moved Lester to the 60-day disabled list.

On Thursday, Timlin said baseball pales in significance to Lester's health.

"It's his life. It's not him not being able to get out of the sixth inning," Timlin said. "He's 22. That's a long future not to have if you come up with an illness that you can't get rid of so we are praying for him.

"Winning baseball games, yeah, that's great. Losing baseball games, no, that's not very much fun. But dealing with horrible things in human life, that's a whole lot worse than losing."

Anaplastic large cell lymphoma is one of a group of cancers known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, said Dr. Robert Soiffer, chief of the division of hematologic malignancies at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Some sports cancer survivors
Saku Koivu abdominal cancer
Mario Lemeuix Hodgkin's disease
Andres Galarraga non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Lance Armstrong testicular cancer
Eric Davis colon cancer
Daryl Strawberry colon cancer
Brett Butler throat cancer
Mike Gallego testicular cancer
Mike Lowell testicular cancer
John Kruk testicular cancer
Scott Radinsky Hodgkin's disease
Joe Torre prostate cancer

"It is a disease that can strike at any age," said Soiffer, who is not involved in Lester's treatment. "It's responsive to chemotherapy and very treatable."

Prognosis depends on the stage at which the disease is caught, Soiffer said. Age can also play a limited role in determining a patient's outcome, he said.

"In general, younger patients ... have a better prognosis than older ones," Soiffer said.

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino is a non-Hodgkins lymphoma survivor.

Lester, from Tacoma, Wash., was Boston's first pick in the 2002 draft. In his first four minor-league seasons, he had a 24-22 record with a 3.38 ERA in 73 games, 69 of them starts, and was considered one of the Red Sox's top prospects.

Last year with Double-A Portland he had an 11-6 record and led the Eastern League with a 2.61 ERA.

This season with Triple-A Pawtucket, he was 3-4 with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts before being promoted.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press