"I have beaten a brain tumor, bypass heart surgery and many tough political opponents and I'm going to beat this, too," said Specter, in a statement revealing that he underwent two biopsies on Monday and was diagnosed two days later. "I have a lot more work to do for Pennsylvania and America."
Hodgkin's disease is a type of cancer involving the lymph nodes. Specter will receive chemotherapy every two weeks for up to 32 weeks at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Specter's doctor, John H. Glick, said he has an "excellent chance of being completely cured."
Glick, an expert on Hodgkin's disease, added that it now has a five-year survival rate of 70 percent.
About 7,500 Americans each year are diagnosed with Hodgkin's.
Specter, a 75-year-old Pennsylvania moderate who just won re-election to his Senate seat, became Judiciary chairman in January.
He went through double bypass surgery in June 1998, had a benign brain tumor removed in 1993 and underwent radiation to treat another tumor in 1996.
Specter also has undergone two hernia operations in less than two years. He had to briefly delay a December trip to the Middle East to schedule the minor surgery.
"My prayers and sympathies go out to Arlen, his wife and his entire family," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. "I am confident that he will recover fully and look forward to his speedy return to the United States Senate."
"My prayers go out to him and I encourage everyone to do the same," said Specter's fellow Senator from Pennsylvania, Republican Rick Santorum, in an interview with CBS News Station KDKA-TV. "His spirits are up and he feels confident that he will get through this," said Santorum, who spoke with Specter on Wednesday.
"They have a very high success rate on the kind of cancer he has," Santorum continued, affectionately calling Specter "a tough old bird" who will prevail.
Democrats are also sending their good wishes. "All of us who serve with Chairman Specter on the Judiciary Committee, Democrats and Republicans, regret that our friend is facing this new challenge," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee's top Democrat.
Added Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., "Senator Specter is one of the brightest and hardest working legal minds in the Senate and we hope he is back to chairing Judiciary Committee meetings soon."
Specter is the first Pennsylvanian elected to five Senate terms, but his 2004 victory was the toughest of his career. Specter barely defeated a conservative former congressman in an April 2004 primary in a race where his age was contrasted with that of his youthful-looking opponent. However, Specter handily won the general election in November.
Intellectual and prickly, Specter is one of a dwindling breed of moderate Republicans in an increasingly polarized Senate. He usually plays squash nearly every day and likes to unwind with a martini or two at night.
Specter has been absent all week and will miss Thursday's Judiciary Committee meeting, in which senators are expected to vote on a bankruptcy measure. The Senate leaves Friday and does not return until March 1, when the Judiciary Committee holds its first hearing on President Bush's judicial nominees.
Specter fought to be Judiciary chairman earlier this year after right-wing Republicans pushed to have him replaced with a more conservative GOP senator. He has promised to be a strong advocate for all of President Bush's judicial nominees.
Even without Specter, Republicans have enough votes to push President Bush's judicial nominees out of committee. The GOP holds a 10-8 advantage on that committee.