Johnnie Cochran Dies of Brain Tumor

Famed Civil Rights Lawyer Diagnosed With Brain Tumor in 2003

From the WebMD Archives

March 30, 2005 -- Legendary attorney Johnnie Cochran died Tuesday at age 67 while suffering from an inoperable brain tumor.

He was known for his sharp tongue, celebrity clientele, and dedication to civil rights long before - and after -- he coined the phrase "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit" during the O.J. Simpson trial. But during his career, he also made it a priority to help "the little man" fight societal injustices.

Cochran reportedly had been in hospice care in Los Angeles and died with his family at his side. He was diagnosed with the brain tumor in December 2003, but according to reports the family wanted to keep the nature of his illness private.

What Are Brain Tumors?

Brain tumors are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the skull. No matter where tumors are located in the body, they are usually classified as benign (noncancerous) if the cells that make up the growth are similar to other normal cells, grow relatively slowly, and are confined to one location. Benign brain tumors can still be deadly, though, because they can push against critical areas of the brain, causing serious brain damage and death.

Tumors are called malignant (cancerous) when the cells are very different from normal cells, are more aggressive, grow relatively quickly, and can spread easily to other locations.

The type Cochran had is unknown.

Each year about 200,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with a brain tumor.

What Are the Symptoms?

Brain tumors cause many diverse symptoms, which can make it hard to detect them. According to the National Brain Tumor foundation, only about a third of patients survive five years after a diagnosis of a brain tumor.

Symptoms usually develop slowly and worsen over time. Some of the more common symptoms of a brain tumor include:

  • Headaches
  • Seizures in a person that doesn't have a history of seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision problems such as eye weakness or hearing problems
  • Mental and personality changes
  • Muscle weakness and coordination problems
  • Speech problems

Making a Diagnosis

When a doctor suspects a brain tumor after reviewing a patient's symptoms and medical history, he or she can run specific tests to confirm the diagnosis. However the first test is often a traditional neurological exam, which includes checking eye movement and eye reflexes. For example, a doctor can shine a pen light into the eye to see if the pupil contracts normally, or ask the patient to follow a moving object, such as a finger.

X-rays or brain imaging techniques are most often used. Lab tests are the next step in diagnosing a brain tumor. These can detect the presence of a tumor and give clues about its location and type.

Learn more about brain tumors.Learn more about brain tumors.

Show Sources

SOURCES: "Brain and Spinal Tumors: Hope Through Research," NINDS, July 2004. NIH Publication No. 93-504. Last updated February 9, 2005. Online. Wire reports. National Brain Tumor Foundation.
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