JERUSALEM, (AP) – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced Monday that he has prostate cancer and would soon have surgery, but said the disease is not life-threatening and he would continue to perform his duties.
Speaking to a packed news conference in Jerusalem, the Israeli leader said the disease was caught at an early stage and that he would have surgery “over the next few months.”
“I will be able to carry out my duties fully before the treatment and within hours afterward,” Olmert said. “My doctors … informed me that there is a full chance of recovery and there is nothing about the tumor which is life-threatening or liable to impair my performance or my ability to carry out the mission which has been bestowed upon me.”
“It is a matter of a microscopic growth, it hasn’t spread and can be removed by a short surgical procedure. According to the medical opinion, there will be no need for radiation treatment or chemotherapy,” Olmert said.
Olmert, 62, took office in January 2006 after his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, suffered a debilitating stroke. Olmert delivered the news of his illness calmly, speaking for about three minutes before leaving the room and giving the podium to his doctors.
The announcement came at a delicate time in Mideast peacemaking, just weeks ahead of a U.S.-brokered summit designed to relaunch long-stalled peace talks. It was not clear how or if Olmert’s illness would affect his already troubled efforts to frame a common outline with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of the conference, scheduled to take place in Annapolis, Md., in either November or December.
Abbas also has survived a bout with prostate cancer.
One of Olmert’s doctors, Shlomo Segev, said the prime minister had a biopsy on Oct. 19 and got the results a week later. He said the cancer showed up in only one of 12 samples taken from Olmert’s prostate.
When Olmert was informed of the results, “There was nothing that showed fear,” Segev said.
Another of his doctors, Yaacov Ramon, said Olmert has a “limited growth” that poses no short-term threat.
He said treatment could wait several months without any risk, and that surgery should eliminate the cancer completely. The chances of full recovery are 95 percent, he said.
“The chances for additional treatment like chemo or radiation therapy are next to zero,” Ramon said.
He said those who have the surgery are usually hospitalized for three days, followed by a recuperation period at home during which they can work. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was expected to take over from Olmert if he is incapacitated by the surgery.
The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland beneath the base of the penis that makes seminal fluid.
According to Cancer Research UK, more than 670,000 men worldwide are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year — one in nine of all new cancers in men, making it the second-most common cancer in men after lung cancer.
It is found mainly in men over the age of 55, and the average age of diagnosis is 70, according to the European Society for Medical Oncology.
Treatment often leads to problems having sex or controlling the bladder, so finding a way to distinguish which tumors can safely be left alone is the field’s top priority. Ramon said doctors planned to remove Olmert’s entire prostate gland.
Prostate cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy and occasionally chemotherapy, among other treatments.
Leaders in Israel do not issue regular pronouncements on their health, as is the case in some other countries. Health issues were thrust to the fore two years ago when Sharon suffered the first of two strokes. The second, hemorrhagic stroke in January 2006 rendered him comatose, and he remains hospitalized in a long-term care facility until this day.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat sent his best wishes to the Israeli leader.
“We wish him a speedy recovery, and we hope to continue working with him toward achieving a two-state solution and ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967,” he said.
Several high-profile U.S. politicians have disclosed their battles with cancer in recent years, including three current presidential candidates.
Rudy Giuliani, the one-time New York City mayor, was sidelined politically in 2000 after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, only to re-enter the fray ahead of next year’s presidential race. Former “Law & Order” star Fred Thompson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Republican Sen. John McCain has had three bouts with melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer.
Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, announced that her breast cancer had returned, and White House spokesman Tony Snow recently had surgery for cancer that spread to his liver.