NFL player Foster Moreau beats Hodgkin's lymphoma, inspires young athletes

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published July 13, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Saints tight end Foster Moreau has announced he is in complete remission from Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma and will be back on the roster this season.

  • The rare subtype impacts about 5% of patients with Hodgkin’s and has a high survival rate.

  • Oncologists say Moreau’s prognosis can give other patients hope that remission can mean beating cancer and returning to the things they love.

Now in full remission from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, NFL football player Foster Moreau plans to be back on the field this season. Oncologists call Moreau’s comeback an inspiration for other young people battling a Hodgkin’s diagnosis, and a reminder to everyone that it is possible to recover from cancer and live an active and fulfilling life.

“Oftentimes we think about cancer as a dreadful disease that causes life to stop at that point of time,” says Wael Harb, MD, a hematologist and medical oncologist at MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. “But there are so many people out there who are survivors—I've seen many Hodgkin's lymphoma patients who have done extremely well in their life and career, whether it's professional sports or another.” Dr. Harb has treated several athletes who have been diagnosed with and recovered from various cancers—including Lance Armstrong. 

Moreau, who is a tight end for the New Orleans Saints, announced that he was diagnosed with a rare subtype of Hodgkin’s known as Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NLPHL) this winter. He tweeted on July 3 that he had entered full remission. 

NLPHL is one of the more “survivable” types of cancer, with a survival rate of more than 90% if caught in the early stages, according to My Lymphoma Team. This is higher than the already-promising five-year survival rate of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is about 89%, according to the American Cancer Society.[] 

The subtype impacts about 5% of people with Hodgkin’s, strikes higher numbers of men than women, and is slow growing, according to the American Cancer Society. It starts in lymph nodes in the neck and underarm and is characterized by popcorn-looking cells. Treatment for NLPHL can vary based on the stage it is diagnosed and the symptoms a patient is presenting with.[]

For patients who develop bulky tumors—which the American Cancer Society defines as tumors about ⅓ as wide as the chest or at least four inches long—or “B symptoms,” which include symptoms like fever (without an infection), drenching night sweats, or unintentional weight loss with up an up to 10% weight reduction over the course of 6 months, multiple treatments may be needed. In these cases, treatment typically involves a combination of chemotherapy and involved site radiation therapy (ISRT), and sometimes drugs, according to the society.[][] 

For patients in the early stages of the disease and without bulky tumors or B-symptoms, treatment can be limited to involved site radiation therapy (ISRT), according to the society. In some cases, it can also be limited to closely watching symptoms before administering treatment.

Being selective about what and how much treatment to administer to a patient can be crucial in helping them get back to the activities they love once in remission, particularly for athletes, says Dr. Harb. 

“It's not only important to cure the lymphoma, it's important that there's no long term side effects or complications that are residual from the treatment,” Dr. Harb says. 

He adds that it is also important for doctors to get to know their patients, and consider their personal goals when administering treatment.

Especially for athletes, “we need to take into consideration the type of sport and the type of activity the person is involved with,” he explains.

For example, some chemotherapy drugs approved for Hodgkin's treatment, like carmustine (BiCNU, BCNU), can impair lung function and capacity, and therefore not the best therapy for athletes who “need all their lung capacity to be able to compete,” says Dr. Harb.[][]

The good news is technology advances throughout the years have allowed doctors to tailor treatment to be less toxic and support the patient’s personal goals once in remission, he says. 

While Moreau has not publicized his exact treatment, he experienced stage 2 NLPHL, which is one of the earlier stages of the disease that requires less intensive treatment. When diagnosed, it was predicted that he would eventually return to football. 

Of the athletes Harb has treated with cancer (of a range of cancers) and who have survived, he says that people tend to get back to athletic functioning between one and six months of their recovery, depending on their individual situations and the type of cancer they were diagnosed with.

His story should give patients and doctors “hope,” says Dr. Harb. 

“We need to all rally around him,” Dr. Harb adds. “He's an inspiration to a lot of other young people who might be going through this that your life will not stop here, you can go back to what you enjoy and want to achieve in life.”

What this means for you

Saints tight end Foster Moreau announced this July that he is in full remission from Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma this July, after publicizing his diagnosis in March. 

Oncologists say Moreau’s predicament can give other Hodgkin’s patients hope for full recovery from cancer and is a good reminder to doctors to tailor treatment to fit a patient’s life goals, when possible.

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