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Doctor: Fred Thompson's lymphoma in remission

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NEW: Doctor says former Sen. Thompson's cancer in remission
• Lymphoma diagnosed 2 years ago, can be treated, source says
• Source: Disclosure shows how serious Thompson is about running for president
• Thompson currently plays district attorney on "Law & Order"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A doctor for former Sen. Fred Thompson announced Wednesday that the possible presidential candidate was diagnosed in 2004 with a form of lymphoma -- a cancer that begins in cells of the immune system -- and that it is currently in remission.

"Right now, he has no evidence of disease," said Dr. Bruce D. Cheson, head of hematology in the division of hematology/oncology at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington. Many such patients "can live a normal life span," he said.

Cheson described his 64-year-old patient's disease as an "indolent lymphoma -- slow growing." (Watch the doctor talk about living "as normal as possible" Video)

Patients with this form of disease "can live a normal, productive life, often dying from unrelated causes," Cheson said. He described Thompson's prognosis as "very favorable."

The diagnosis was made late in 2004, when Thompson sought treatment for a 3.5 centimeter by 4 centimeter (roughly one inch by 1 inch) lump under his left jaw and the biopsy came back positive, Cheson said.

Thompson was initially treated with radiation to his neck, "merely because it was bothersome to him to have a lump there."

"The indolent, or slow-growing lymphomas are very treatable, but rarely if ever curable," Cheson said. "Therefore, his likelihood of recurring is high, but this may not happen for a number of years."

Should the disease recur, Thompson could be retreated with chemotherapy, the blood expert said.

There are about 63,190 cases of malignant lymphoma -- also called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma -- diagnosed each year in the United States, said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, in a telephone interview.

The disease causes about 18,660 deaths each year, he added.

Disease should not stop presidential bid

About Thompson's consideration of a possible presidential bid, Cheson said: "I would strongly encourage him, if this is what he wants to do, to go ahead with it. His disease and eventual treatment for this disease should not impact on his ability to perform this job."

Some 22 percent of people with the disease have the type of lymphoma that typically follows a benign course, Lichtenfeld said.

Thompson appears to have that type, suggesting that "his outlook is, in fact, excellent," he said.

Still, he added, "Nobody's saying it won't come back."

A source familiar with Thompson's deliberations on whether to jump into the 2008 presidential race told CNN's Candy Crowley that Thompson has been discussing his illness privately "for some time."

Asked how the illness might affect a possible presidential bid, the source said, "This disclosure should indicate to everyone interested in seeing Fred enter the race for the White House how serious he is taking the next steps toward launching a campaign."

Thompson is a familiar face on television, where he has played the role of gruff district attorney Arthur Branch on NBC's three "Law & Order" series.

He was the minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee before being elected to the Senate in 1994 to fill the unexpired term of Vice President Al Gore.

After chairing the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, he stepped down in 2003 to resume his acting career.

In 2005, Thompson helped shepherd Chief Justice John Roberts through the Senate confirmation process and, most recently, he raised money for the defense of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff.

Libby was found guilty in March of lying and obstructing justice during the investigation into who released the identity of then-CIA operative Valerie Plame.

CNN's Candy Crowley and Bob Franken contributed to this report.

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A recent poll says Fred Thompson, star of "Law & Order" and a former senator, is gaining ground as other Republican presidential hopefuls are slipping.

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