Maureen Reagan, daughter of former President Ronald Reagan and actress Jane Wyman, is undergoing radiation treatment for malignant melanoma that has spread to her brain, it was disclosed Friday.
The Alzheimer's Assn., on whose board of directors Reagan serves, said that she had been hospitalized last week in a Sacramento suburb near her home following spasms and mild seizures and that a MRI revealed she had lesions on the right and left sides of her brain.
The five-year survival rate for melanoma that has widely metastasized is less than 20%, association officials said in a statement.
But it quoted her husband, Dennis C. Revell, as saying, "Like many cancer patients, Maureen prefers not to dwell on the statistical survival rates, preferring to recognize that each person's case is quite different and unique.
"She believes that there are many factors that help a person survive, from the power of one's faith and prayers, to support of family and friends, to the quality of one's medical care, to maintaining a positive attitude."
Revell has remained with Reagan and has been sleeping at her bedside throughout her treatment at Mercy San Juan Hospital in Carmichael, according to the statement, and she has had calls and visits from Wyman, Nancy Reagan and close friends.
Nancy Reagan was quoted as saying, "I am heartsick over Maureen and only wish there was something we could do for her. I saw her a little over a week ago and told her that her dad and I love her and we're praying for her every day."
Reagan, 60, a former candidate for the U.S. Senate from California, a former member of the Republican National Committee and a best-selling author, has widely publicized her battle with melanoma since 1998 in an attempt to raise public awareness of the disease, which kills 8,000 Americans every year.
She first was diagnosed with it in late 1996 and has undergone extensive treatment, including 3 1/2 months of aggressive biochemotherapy ending in March at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica.
Reagan was at St. John's during the same time her father, now 90 and stricken with Alzheimer's disease, was there for a fractured hip.
An expert in melanoma, Dr. Ronald Scheff, an oncologist and hematologist at Staten Island University Hospital, said whole-brain radiation, the treatment Reagan will undergo, is standard when melanoma has metastasized into multiple parts of the brain.
"Usually, there is excellent control of seizures and neurologic symptoms," he said. "Sometimes, though, the tumor recurs in the brain despite the treatment."
As with other cancers, melanoma becomes a grave threat once it spreads from one part of the body to another, Scheff said. "That's not to say that some patients don't live a long time, even many years, but generally speaking, it cannot be cured," he said.
Reagan and her husband have an adopted 15-year-old daughter, Rita.