U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin remains hospitalized while recovering from complications related to a December surgery to treat prostate cancer, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
His doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Dr. John Maddox, director of trauma medical, and Dr. Gregory Chesnut, director of the Center for Prostate Disease Research, said the 70-year-old is expected to make a full recovery once his complications have cleared.
“His prostate cancer was detected early, and his prognosis is excellent,” the doctors said in a hospital statement.
Austin first underwent minimally invasive prostate cancer surgery on Dec. 22 following routine screening in November, his doctors said. He went home the next day to recover.
But on New Year’s Day, “Austin was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center with complications from the December 22 procedure, including nausea with severe abdominal, hip, and leg pain,” his doctors said. “Initial evaluation revealed a urinary tract infection. On January 2, the decision was made to transfer him to the ICU for close monitoring and a higher level of care.”
“Further evaluation revealed abdominal fluid collections impairing the function of his small intestines. This resulted in the backup of his intestinal contents, which was treated by placing a tube through his nose to drain his stomach,” the doctors said.
“He has progressed steadily throughout his stay,” Maddox and Chesnut added. “His infection has cleared. He continues to make progress and we anticipate a full recovery, although this can be a slow process.”
While Austin is still in the hospital, he continues to perform his duties, the Pentagon said. His decision to keep his prostate cancer surgery private has prompted concerns about transparency in leadership.
“Secretary Austin continues to recover well and remains in good spirits,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a Tuesday briefing. “He’s in contact with his senior staff and has full access to required secure communications capabilities and continues to monitor DOD’s day-to-day operations worldwide.”
“At this time I do not have any information to provide in terms of when he might be released from the hospital,” Ryder added.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men in the United States.
But the risk of prostate cancer is not spread equally, Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, told CNN.
Black men are 70% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than white men and they’re more than twice as likely to die from the disease.
“It’s a greater incidence, but also a much greater mortality,” Dahut said. “So generally, around the age of 40, Black men should talk to their physicians about screening.”
It is reassuring that Austin’s cancer was detected by a blood test and that he had surgery to remove it, Dr. Oliver Sartor, chief of the Genitourinary Cancer Disease Group at the Mayo Clinic, told CNN.
“The worst prostate cancers are the ones that have spread and that you don’t operate on,” Sartor said. “So the fact that he was operated on, to me, is a relatively good sign.”
Sartor said the surgery that Austin underwent — a prostatectomy to remove his prostate — slashes his risk of dying within the next five years.
“It’s probably 1% or less. It’s very, very rare for somebody who’s had their prostate operated on to die within the next five years,” Sartor said.
Meanwhile, serious prostate surgery complications are “extremely rare,” Dr. Michael Stifelman, chief of urology at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, told CNN. Still, the fluid buildup described by Austin’s doctors can happen several ways, he added.
During a prostatectomy, doctors have to cut and rejoin the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body.
“If that reconnecting of the bladder back to the urethra is not perfect, sometimes urine can leak out of the body and go into the abdomen,” Stifelman explained.
Another way fluid might build up is after surgeons remove lymph nodes, if they are not sealed completely, “sometimes you can have what’s called a lymphatic leak,” Stifelman noted.
Finally, whenever tissue is removed from the body, fluid can leak and cause a buildup.
Luckily, all three complications heal in time, Stifelman said.
“He can expect a full recovery,” Stifelman added.
The National Cancer Institute has more about prostate cancer.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Defense, news release, Jan. 9, 2024; Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, statement, Jan. 9, 2024; CNN
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