Michael Douglas said on Tuesday he felt optimistic about recovering from throat cancer but drew gasps when he told a television audience he had the most advanced stage.
The 65-year-old "Wall Street" actor told talk-show host David Letterman that a biopsy indicated that his cancer was at stage 4, which he described as "intense, and so they've got to go at it ..."
Letterman asked whether stage 4 was a good diagnosis. "Um no," Douglas replied, according to a transcript provided by CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman." "You like to be down at stage one ... but it has not — the big thing you're always worried about is it spreading."
Stage 4 cancer has spread far beyond the original tumor and is usually impossible to cure.
Douglas said he has at least an 80 percent chance of recovery. "And with certain hospitals and everything, it does improve."
"You've never looked better to me, and this proves that you're a tough guy, for God's sakes," Letterman said. "Let's just say ... I'm pretty lit up right now," Douglas replied.
According to the National Cancer Institute, patients with stage 4 head and neck cancer usually undergo surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Douglas told Letterman he faces an "eight-week struggle" and he just finished his first course of radiation and chemotherapy treatment. "It's a fight," he told People magazine. "It really knocks you out."
Douglas told Letterman that his cancer was caused by his drinking and smoking.
He said his throat had been bothering him for a while, and a multitude of doctors put him through a battery of tests in the early summer, but had found nothing.
After a summer break, he underwent a biopsy, which revealed his advanced cancer.
He expressed frustration with the doctors who could not find anything, "because I was on it early in the summer and started complaining about something, but they couldn't see it then."
Catherine Zeta-Jones, Douglas's wife, told People it was difficult seeing her husband struggle with the disease. "The hardest part is seeing his fatigue, because Michael is never tired," she said, adding that he told their two children — Dylan, 10, and 7-year-old Carys — the news himself.
Reuters and AP contributed to this report.