PITTSBURGH -- Doctors who treated Mario Lemieux for Hodgkin's disease said Wednesday his cancer is in remission and his youth and desire allowed him to resume playing hockey the day he received his final radiation treatment.
Lemieux, 27, received his last of 22 radiation treatments Tuesday morning. He hopped a chartered plane to Philadelphia and scored a goal and assist in a 5-4 loss to the Flyers Tuesday night.
'Mario's Hodgkin's disease is in remission,' said Dr. Theodore Crandall, medical oncologist at Allegheny General Hospital. 'The question of cure though is more difficult to answer. One of the things we know about Hodgkin's disease is that reoccurrences do occur in some patients. So follow-up is going to be very important.'
Hodgkin's is a form of cancer that attacks the lymph nodes. The cancer was detected shortly after a small, infected tumor was removed from Lemieux's neck. Doctors believe the disease was limited to the one lymph node, but Lemieux began radiation therapy Feb. 1 in case it had spread.
Crandall said Lemieux's follow-up regimen will consist 'indefinitely' of regular physical examinations, blood tests and periodic scans indicated by his symptoms. Crandall said he would check Lemieux next week, and based on how he's doing and feeling would set up a routine follow-up pattern for him.
Crandall said he thought it was 'unusual' someone who had received radiation for 4 weeks was able to play in an NHL game on the night he received his last treament.
'I think it's a tribute to several things: Mario's conditioning, the radiation and Mario's desire,' Crandall said.
Dr. James Hughes, director of radiation oncology for the cancer treatment center at the Medical Center of Beaver County where Lemieux received his radiation therapy, said the side effects Lemieux experienced were 'much less than what we expected.'
'Normally somebody having 4 weeks of radiation, the side effects tend to build as you go through the radiation,' Hughes said. 'Really, he's done extremely well, much better than I would have forecast at the start. It's probably a function of his age, his physcial fitness, as well as his desire.'
Lemieux said he felt 'surprisingly pretty good' after playing his first game back after missing 23 contests.
'It's just a matter of getting back on top of my game, practicing a lot more, if I can, and certainly playing a lot more during the games,' Lemieux said. 'I'll see how I feel when I do that.'
Lemieux, a three-time NHL scoring champion, was leading the NHL in scoring when he went out of the lineup. After Tuesday night's game he had 40 goals and 66 assists in 41 games, trailing only Buffalo's Pat LaFontaine by 10 points. Lemieux said it was 'very important' to him to regain the scoring lead.
'That's my job -- to win scoring titles,' said Lemieux, who has led the Penguins to two straight Stanley Cup championships. 'Certainly this year I'm going to give do everything possible to do that.'
How long before he catches LaFontaine?
'Hopefully, not too long,' Lemieux said. 'I saw him at the All- Star Game and I told him I was going to come back and give him a few points ahead and try to have a good race at the end. He's still playing great. He's picking up two, three points a game. It should be a good race.'