Kerry Pressing 2004 Bid Despite Cancer
Feb. 11, 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry will have his prostate removed Wednesday after being diagnosed with ``a very early, curable'' form of cancer, his doctor said.
The junior senator from Massachusetts will go forward with his White House bid, aides said Tuesday.
Dr. Patrick Walsh, urology chief at The Johns Hopkins Hospital who pioneered a safer form of prostate removal and will perform Kerry's surgery, said the lawmaker should be back at work in a couple of weeks following surgery.
Kerry, 59, who is otherwise fit, has at least a 95 percent chance of being cured, Walsh said, citing his own newly published study of 2,000 patients who have undergone surgery. The surgery will be performed at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was elected to the Senate in 1984, scheduled a 5 p.m. EST news conference at a Senate committee room to announce his diagnosis.
The surgery complicates Kerry's campaign to win the Democratic presidential nomination but, with the first voting still 11 months away, aides characterized the diagnosis as a minor setback.
Kerry has made strides against his five rivals in a Democratic field that could grow with a possible announcement from Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who is recovering from heart surgery.
Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who is an internist, said in a statement, ``John is in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. I have every confidence that he'll come through this well.'' Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, who plans to formally announce his candidacy next week, called Kerry to wish him a speedy recovery, according to a spokesman.
``This is like a bolt from the blue, completely shocking,'' said Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Phil Johnston. He said politics should take a back seat to Kerry's medical treatment for now.
Chris Lehane, a spokesman for Kerry, said, ``Every expectation is that this is a simple procedure and that John will be back at full speed as soon as possible.''
Kerry, whose father died of prostate cancer while he was in his 80s, was diagnosed at a fairly young age. Walsh said that helps his chances of recovery.
About 220,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, and 28,900 will die, the American Cancer Society estimates. It is the second-leading cancer killer of men, and risk increases with each decade of age beyond 50. But caught early, it is highly curable.
Surgery is the most common treatment for prostate cancer that has not yet spread beyond the doughnut-shaped gland that surrounds the urethra, but it is a rigorous operation that will keep Kerry in the hospital for about three days.
Kerry is among a long list of public figures diagnosed with prostate cancer, including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., New York Yankees manager Joe Torre and former Sen. Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee.
``If indeed the tumor is confined to the prostate gland and they don't find any evidence of spread at the time of surgery, then there's a strong likelihood that he'll remain cancer-free,'' Dr. Durado Brooks, the American Cancer Society's prostate cancer director, said after being told of Kerry's exam results.
Men over 50 are routinely screened for prostate abnormalities with a blood test for the prostate specific antigen, or PSA. Increases in PSA indicate prostate abnormalities, either enlargement or cancer.
A routine checkup in December uncovered a slight increase in Kerry's PSA. Given his family history, doctors performed a biopsy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Kerry learned on Christmas Eve that he had what Walsh called a small, early stage cancer. The senator had announced his presidential bid on Dec. 1.
The doctor said the cancer is contained on the left side of Kerry's prostate and has not spread, something that a CT scan confirmed. Doctors rate prostate cancer based on a ``Gleason'' score that describes the size and likely aggressiveness of a tumor. On a score of 2 to 10, Kerry's cancer is a Gleason 6, Walsh said.
``He has very early curable cancer,'' Walsh said in a telephone interview arranged by the Kerry campaign. ``I expect him to be very active very soon after the operation.''
Walsh's trademark procedure spares surrounding nerves to lower those risks. He said that a man Kerry's age has a 1 percent chance of incontinence problems and a 10 percent chance of lasting impotence.
There are other treatments for prostate cancer, including hormonal therapy and radiation, but Walsh, an advocate for surgery, said the risks associated with those options meet or exceed his procedure.
The campaign released letters from Kerry's physician, Dr. Gerald J. Doyle of Boston. In a letter dated Tuesday, Doyle characterized Kerry as being in ``general excellent health.''