House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) announced Tuesday that he has a “very treatable” form of blood cancer and has begun treatment that will last the next several months.
“After a few days of not feeling like myself this past week, I had some blood work done,” Scalise said in a statement. “The results uncovered some irregularities and after undergoing additional tests, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a very treatable blood cancer.”
Scalise, 57, said he plans to work while undergoing treatment and intends to return to Washington.
“I am incredibly grateful we were able to detect this early and that this cancer is treatable,” he said. “I am thankful for my excellent medical team, and with the help of God, support of my family, friends, colleagues, and constituents, I will tackle this with the same strength and energy as I have tackled past challenges.”
As majority leader, Scalise is the second-highest-ranking Republican after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). A former Louisiana state lawmaker, Scalise has served in Congress since 2008 and is running for reelection for his ninth full term. According to Punchbowl News, Scalise fell ill on the campaign trail.
A representative for Scalise’s office did not immediately respond to questions by email Tuesday.
Multiple myeloma is a rare blood cancer that occurs in plasma cells — the white blood cells that help fight infections by making antibodies that attack germs — according to Mayo Clinic. In someone with multiple myeloma, these cancerous cells grow out of control, accumulating in the bone marrow and crowding out healthy blood cells.
The malignant cells produce abnormal antibodies called M proteins, which don’t work properly and can damage the kidneys, said Louis Williams, a multiple myeloma expert at Cleveland Clinic. He said the body’s ability to make healthy blood cells also is affected, and bones can be weakened and break.
The outlook for myeloma patients has brightened significantly in recent years with the development of new treatments.
“It’s one of the areas of cancer where we have made the most progress,” Williams said. While there is no cure — at least as defined in the traditional sense — there are several treatments designed to deal with symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Some patients experience long remissions.
S. Vincent Rajkumar, an expert on the disease at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said new immunotherapy treatments are among the latest approaches being used.
“The prognosis has improved dramatically, and even the latest data haven’t captured everything that is happening,” he said.
But the specialists, neither of whom is involved in the treatment of Scalise, also cautioned that the disease varies widely from patient to patient.
Scalise has overcome serious medical challenges before, most famously in 2017 after he was shot and critically wounded when a gunman opened fire at a GOP practice for the Congressional Baseball Game. The shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, was killed by Scalise’s security detail at the baseball field.
Scalise, who was shot in the left hip, required several surgeries to deal with fractured bones, injured internal organs and severe bleeding. He ultimately returned to the annual Congressional Baseball Game one year later, walking onto the field with a cane to a standing ovation.
McCarthy said he spoke with Scalise on Tuesday and said he was in “good spirits.”
“Steve is a dear friend, and anyone who knows him knows he’s a faith-filled fighter who can overcome any obstacle that stands in his way … nothing — not a gunshot and certainly not cancer — will stop him from accomplishing what he sets his mind to,” McCarthy said in a statement.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that news of Scalise’s diagnosis was “devastating” and that those in the Biden administration were hoping for a speedy recovery for the lawmaker.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the congressman and his family,” Jean-Pierre said. “Clearly, he’s gone through a lot over the past couple of years.”
Several lawmakers also wished Scalise well, with many making indirect references to his recovery from the 2017 shooting.
“There is no stronger fighter than @SteveScalise,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican, said in a social media post. “Steve is as tough and kind as they come, and he has beaten so many unbeatable odds. The Legend from Louisiana is beloved by his colleagues and America and we know he will fight this next battle with that same resolve. We are proud to stand by to support Steve and his family as they embrace strength and faith in this next challenge.”
Mariana Alfaro contributed to this report.