Sen. Arlen Specter ignited a new round of speculation about his health when he remarked that his eyes and nose were running as a side effect of chemotherapy. A spokeswoman quickly said Specter has not suffered a recurrence of cancer or undergone the treatment in more than a year.
The 79-year-old senator, who switched earlier this year from Republican to Democrat and is up for what's expected to be a tough re-election fight, made the comment Tuesday during the Judiciary Committee's deliberations on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court.
"If you see me dab at my eyes, I'm not sad," Specter said. "It's chemotherapy and I've made the Kleenex industry wealthy. But I'm glad to say that I'm fit as a fiddle, ready for re-election, I'm not infirm in any way, just a little consequence of chemotherapy. But I make that comment because people wonder about it."
Specter has twice survived cancer since his first diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease in 2005. He suffered a recurrence in April 2008 and underwent 12 chemotherapy treatments that ended in mid-July that year.
Specter worked throughout the three-month treatment regime and was often seen dabbing at his eyes and nose. Dry eye is a side effect of chemotherapy that can linger long after the treatment is finished.
"During his comments on Judge Sotomayor, Sen. Specter was dabbing his eyes which were tearing," said spokeswoman Kate Kelly. "He explained that he wasn't crying but simply that his eyes tear as a result of chemotherapy which he finished more than a year ago. Subsequent tests have given him a clean bill of health."
The fifth-term senator left the Republican Party earlier this year, saying he could not have won a GOP primary. His likely opponent in the 2010 Democratic primary is Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa. Former Rep. Pat Toomey is seeking the Republican nomination.