Survivor’s Ethan Zohn, 35, has a very treatable form of cancer (Hodgkin’s Disease)

The winner of Survivor: Africa, Ethan Zohn, plans to be a survivor again. This time, however, the battle isn’t against other contestants, but within his own body. Ethan was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease on April 30th. As he told People magazine, “This is the ultimate game of Survivor,and there’s really only one outcome, and that’s to win. There’s no other option.”  His initial symptoms, night sweats and itching, are characteristic for the disease. A chest x-ray later showed an enlarged lymph node in his chest.

Hodgkin’s Disease, otherwise known as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, is a cancer of the immune system, specifically lymph cells (lymphocytes) found in lymph nodes, spleen, liver and bone marrow. It is most common in two different age groups- 15-40 year-olds, and those over 55 years old. In Hodgkin’s Disease, lymphocytes are transformed into much larger cells called Reed-Sternberg cells, which have the ability to divide in an uncontrolled manner, thus spreading throughout the body.


Symptoms of Hodgkin’s Disease include:

  • painless swelling of the lymph nodes, especially in the neck, armpits, or groin
  • fever and chills
  • night sweats
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • itchy skin

As in most other kinds of cancer, treatment and prognosis are related to “staging” of the disease.  What this means is how far along is the cancer? Is it localized to one area? Has it spread to local lymph nodes? Can it be found in other, more distance organs? For lymphoma in particular- are there tumor cells in the bone marrow. Treatment usually consists of chemotherapy, radiation therapy or both. Fortunately for patients with Hodgkin’s Disease, the prognosis has improved dramatically over the years. For example, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease at the age of 30 in 1983. The 56 year-old billionaire is still disease-free 26 years later.

Paul Allen ready to smash a guitar on stage, imitating his hero Jimmy Hendrix, at the opening of his Experience Music Project in Seattle in 2000.

Today the survival rate for Hodgkin’s lymphoma is generally 90% or higher when the disease is detected during early stages, making it one of the more curable forms of cancer.

Dr. Thomas Hodgkin was a 19th century British physician who first described the disease in 1832.

Resounding Health e-book on Hodgkin’s Disease

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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