Peter Jennings has lung cancer
Says he stopped smoking 20 years ago, but relapsed during 9/11
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Longtime ABC anchor Peter Jennings has been diagnosed with lung cancer, the broadcaster announced on his evening newscast Tuesday.
"Yes, I was a smoker until about 20 years ago, and I was weak and I smoked over 9/11," the 66-year-old anchor told viewers at the close of Tuesday's "World News Tonight," his usually mellifluous voice hoarse.
He lauded his colleagues, to whom he had divulged his diagnosis earlier in the day in an e-mail, as "incredibly supportive."
Nearly 10 million Americans "are living with cancer," he said, citing National Cancer Institute statistics. "I have a lot to learn from them, and 'living' is the key word."
Jennings, a native Canadian who became a U.S. citizen in 2003, said he would continue to anchor the program.
"On good days, my voice will not always be like this," he said with a chuckle.
Jennings, known for always being immaculately dressed and coiffed, is to begin chemotherapy Monday. "I wonder if other men and women ask their doctors right away, 'OK, doc, when does the hair go?'" he said.
Hair loss is a common side effect of some forms of chemotherapy.
In his e-mail to ABC News staff, Jennings said the diagnosis "was quite a surprise."
"There will be good days and bad, which means that some days I may be cranky and some days really cranky!"
"Hundreds of you have been like family. It feels good to have such a family right now."
An ABC spokesman said Jennings received the diagnosis Monday night.
The spokesman said Jennings had been feeling ill for the past couple of months and underwent a number of tests before the diagnosis was made. He did not travel to cover the tsunami in South Asia or the death of Pope John Paul II.
In a companion e-mail, ABC News President David Westin said, "I know that all of us will give him every bit of support that he needs and asks for. Peter will once again lead the way, but we will stand with him at every turn."
Westin said when Jennings does not feel well enough to anchor, "Charlie Gibson, Elizabeth Vargas and others will be substituting for Peter as necessary and when their other responsibilities permit."
Vargas anchored Tuesday night's program.
The news sent ripples through the broadcast journalism world, which has been shaken up in recent months, with CBS's Dan Rather and NBC's Tom Brokaw leaving their anchor posts.
Last week, Ted Koppel announced he would soon be leaving the job as anchor of ABC's "Nightline." In addition, former ABC "20/20" anchor Barbara Walters also recently stepped down.
"Peter is an old friend," Brokaw said in a press release. "I'm heartbroken, but he's also a tough guy. I'm counting on him getting through this very difficult passage."
Jennings has been the sole anchor of "World News Tonight" since 1983. He was part of a group of anchors, with Frank Reynolds and Max Robinson, for several years before that.
He has won numerous awards, among them a National Headliner Award and the George Foster Peabody award.
Before taking the anchor chair at "World News Tonight," Jennings was an ABC correspondent.
Among the stories he covered were the Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, in 1972, when members of the Arab terrorist group Black September seized the Israeli compound, took athletes hostage and killed them.
In 1965, when he was 26, Jennings was chosen to anchor "The ABC Evening News." Two years later, he told his bosses he needed more seasoning and returned to field reporting, said CNN correspondent Jeff Greenfield, a former ABC News employee.
Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of men and women in the world. It is difficult to detect early and difficult to treat.
The average patient is diagnosed at age 70.
The five-year survival rate for men diagnosed with the disease is 14 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.
This year, there will be 172,570 new cases of lung cancer in the United States: 93,010 among men and 79,560 among women, according to the American Cancer Society.
Oncologists say the stage of Jennings' cancer, which ABC did not divulge, is critical to his prognosis. Cancer stages range from 1 to 4, with 4 being the most advanced, indicating the disease has spread.
Typically, patients with Stage 1 lung cancer, the most curable form, are initially treated with surgery, said Dr. Jimmy Hwang, an oncologist at Georgetown University in Washington, who has not reviewed Jennings' case.
The fact that Jennings is starting his treatment with chemotherapy "is actually a little bit worrisome," Hwang said.
Asked whether that suggests Jennings' cancer is advanced, Hwang said, "That would suggest that, yes."