Scott Hamilton to be Back on Ice, Despite Brushes with Cancer

Olympic skater Scott Hamilton, 51, announced that he is headed back to the ice skating rink to perform at his annual cancer benefit, the Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Nov. 7. Hamilton is a four-time U.S. National Champion, a four-time World Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist in figure skating. Successfully treated for testicular cancer in 1997 (a topic for a future blog entry), Hamilton was diagnosed in November 2004 with what was called a “benign brain tumor.” He had been complaining of several months of fatigue, headaches and vision problems and was ultimately diagnosed with a slow growing tumor called a craniopharyngioma.
Craniopharyngiomas are tumors derived from pituitary gland tissues, and typically form in area above the pituitary gland. It is most common in children between 5 to 10 years old, and again in individuals over 50. It is fairly uncommon, only occurring in 2 per 100,000 people.

It causes symptoms in one of three ways:

  • Increasing the pressure on the brain (increased intracranial pressure). This causes symptoms of headache, nausea and vomiting, and decreased balance.
  • Disrupting the function of the pituitary gland. This leads to hormone imbalances which can cause growth failure and delayed puberty in children, loss of normalmenstrual function or sex drive, increased sensitivity to cold,fatigue, constipation, dry skin, nausea, low blood pressure, anddepression. Pituitary stalk compression can lead to diabetes insipidus(DI), causing increased thirst and urination, and may increaseprolactin levels, causing a milky discharge from the breast(galactohhrea).
  • Damaging the optic nerve causing visual disturbances, and even blindness.

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Treatment of craniopharyngiomas is either surgical or with radiation, depending on the size and location of the tumor. Interestingly, Scott Hamilton had a relatively new type of radiation treatment called gamma knife therapy, which is an array of computer controlled radiation beams that pinpoints the tumor. He spoke of this experience to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) in 2005:

http://www.elekta.com/patient_international_olympic_star_gamma_knife_experience.php

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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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