VP’s Son Beau Biden Dies of Brain Cancer

Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, has died at the age of 46 from brain cancer. The former Delaware State Attorney General was hospitalized earlier this month at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

A statement from the VP announced:

“The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words. We know that Beau’s spirit will live on in all of us —especially through his brave wife, Hallie, and two remarkable children, Natalie and Hunter.”

Biden, a former JAG, suffered from what was called “a mild stroke” in May 2011, from which he made a “full recovery.”

In August 2013, he was admitted to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX after what was described by White House officials as “an episode of disorientation and weakness.” He was diagnosed with a brain tumor. A small lesion was removed and he underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy. He was told he was cancer free three months later.

Biden suffered a recurrence of the cancer this spring, and was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to undergo “aggressive treatment.”

President Obama released the following statement:

“Michelle and I are grieving tonight.  Beau Biden was a friend of ours.  His beloved family – Hallie, Natalie, and Hunter – are friends of ours.  And Joe and Jill Biden are as good as friends get.

But for all that Beau Biden achieved in his life, nothing made him prouder; nothing made him happier; nothing claimed a fuller focus of his love and devotion than his family.

Just like his dad.

Joe is one of the strongest men we’ve ever known.  He’s as strong as they come, and nothing matters to him more than family.  It’s one of the things we love about him.  And it is a testament to Joe and Jill – to who they are – that Beau lived a life that was full; a life that mattered; a life that reflected their reverence for family.

“I have believed the best of every man,” wrote the poet William Butler Yeats, “And find that to believe it is enough to make a bad man show him at his best or even a good man swing his lantern higher.”

Beau Biden believed the best of us all.  For him, and for his family, we swing our lanterns higher.”

Overview of the brain

nci-vol-9847-72The brain has three major parts:

  • brain stem—This lowest part of the brain (above the neck) connects to the spinal cord and relays information between the brain and the body using bundles of long nerves.  It controls basic life-sustaining functions, including blood pressure, heartbeat, breathing, consciousness, swallowing, and body temperature.
  • cerebrum—This largest and outermost part of the brain processes information from our senses to tell the body how to respond.  It controls functions including movement, touch, judgment, learning, speech, emotions, and thinking.
  • cerebellum—Located at the lower rear of the brain, above the brain stem, the cerebellum controls balance, helps maintain equilibrium, and coordinates such complex muscle movements as walking and talking.

The brain’s two halves, or hemispheres, use nerve cells (neurons) to speak with each other.  Each side of the cerebrum controls movement and function on the other side of the body.  In addition, each hemisphere has four sections, called lobes, which handle different neurological functions.

The frontal lobes manage voluntary movement, such as writing, and let us set and prioritize goals.  A frontal lobe tumor can cause changes in personality, intellect, reasoning, and behavior; affect coordination and walking, and cause speech loss.  The temporal lobes are linked to perception, memory, and understanding sounds and words.  A tumor here might cause speech and hearing problems, blackouts, seizures, or sensations such as a feeling of fear.  The parietal lobes let us simultaneously receive and understand sensations such as pressure and pain.  A parietal lobe tumor might cause difficulty understanding or speaking words, problems with coordination, seizures, and numbness or weakness on one side of the body.  The occipital lobes receive and process light and visual images, and detect motion.  An occipital lobe tumor can affect the field of vision, usually on one side of the view, and how we understand written words.

Three layers of protective tissue (called the meninges) cover the brain—the thick dura mater (outer layer), the arachnoid (middle), and the pia mater (innermost to the brain).

Brain tumors in infants and adults tend to be located in the cerebrum.  Brain tumors in children ages 1-12 years are more commonly found in the cerebellum

What you should know about cancer of the brain

It is estimated that nearly 23,400 new cases of primary malignant brain and central nervous system (CNS) tumors will be diagnosed in the United States in 2014

When most normal cells grow old or get damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body doesn’t need them, and old or damaged cells don’t die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.

Primary brain tumors can be benign or malignant

Benign brain tumors do not contain cancer cells:
— Usually, benign tumors can be removed, and they seldom grow back.
— Benign brain tumors usually have an obvious border or edge. Cells from benign tumors rare lyinvade tissues around them. They don’t spread to other parts of the body. However, benign tumors can press on sensitive areas of the brain and cause serious health problems.
— Unlike benign tumors in most other parts of the body, benign brain tumors are sometimes life threatening.
— Benign brain tumors may become malignant.

Malignant brain tumors (also called brain cancer) contain cancer cells:
— Malignant brain tumors are generally more serious and often are a threat to life.
— They are likely to grow rapidly and crowd or invade the nearby healthy brain tissue.
— Cancer cells may break away from malignant brain tumors and spread to other parts of the brain or to the spinal cord. They rarely spread to other parts of the body.

Types of Primary Brain Tumors

Blausen.com staff.

Blausen.com staff.

There are many types of primary brain tumors. Primary brain tumors are named according to the type of cells or the part of the brain in which they begin. For example, most primary brain tumors begin in glial cells. This type of tumor is called a glioma.
Among adults, the most common types are:

Grade I or II astrocytoma
It may be called a low-grade glioma.

Grade III astrocytoma

Grade IV astrocytoma
It may be called a glioblastoma or malignant astrocytic glioma.

The tumor arises in the meninges. It can be grade I, II, or III. It’s usually benign (grade I) and grows slowly.

The tumor arises from cells that make the fatty substance that covers and protects nerves. It usually occurs in the cerebrum.It’s most common in middle-aged adults. It can begrade II or III.


The symptoms of a brain tumor depend on tumor size, type, and location. Symptoms may be caused when a tumor presses on a nerve or harms a part of the brain. Also, they may be caused when a tumor blocks the fluid that flows through and around the brain, or
when the brain swells because of the buildup of fluid.
These are the most common symptoms of brain tumors:
•   Headaches (usually worse in the morning)
•   Nausea and vomiting
•   Changes in speech, vision, or hearing
•   Problems balancing or walking
•   Changes in mood, personality, or ability to concentrate
•   Problems with memory
•   Muscle jerking or twitching (seizures or convulsions)
•   Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
Most often, these symptoms are not due to a brain tumor. Another health problem could cause them. If you have any of these symptoms, you should tell your doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated.

Source: NCI

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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