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Despite Complications After Prostate Cancer Surgery, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Should Fully Recuperate

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 10, 2024 (HealthDay News) — U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stays 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 anticipated to make a full recovery once his complications have cleared.

“His prostate cancer was detected early, and his prognosis is superb,” 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 subsequent day to get well.

But on Recent Yr’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 choice was made to transfer him to the ICU for close monitoring and the next level of care.”

“Further evaluation revealed abdominal fluid collections impairing the function of his small intestines. This resulted within the backup of his intestinal contents, which was treated by placing a tube through his nose to empty 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 is usually a slow process.” 

While Austin remains to be within the hospital, he continues to perform his duties, the Pentagon said. His decision to maintain his prostate cancer surgery private has prompted concerns about transparency in leadership.

“Secretary Austin continues to get well well and stays in good spirits,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a Tuesday briefing. “He’s involved together with his senior staff and has full access to required secure communications capabilities and continues to observe DOD’s day-to-day operations worldwide.”

“Presently I should not have any information to offer when it comes to when he is perhaps released from the hospital,” Ryder added.

Prostate cancer is the second commonest cancer in men in the US.

But the chance of prostate cancer will not be spread equally, Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, told CNN.

Black men are 70% more prone to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than white men and so they’re greater than twice as prone to die from the disease.

“It’s a greater incidence, but additionally a much greater mortality,” Dahut said. “So generally, across the age of 40, Black men should seek advice from their physicians about screening.”

It’s 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 on the Mayo Clinic, told CNN.

“The worst prostate cancers are those which have spread and that you just don’t operate on,” Sartor said. “So the incontrovertible fact that he was operated on, to me, is a comparatively good sign.”

Sartor said the surgery that Austin underwent — a prostatectomy to remove his prostate — slashes his risk of dying inside the subsequent five years.

“It’s probably 1% or less. It’s very, very rare for anyone who’s had their prostate operated on to die inside the subsequent five years,” Sartor said.

Meanwhile, serious prostate surgery complications are “extremely rare,” Dr. Michael Stifelman, chief of urology at Hackensack University Medical Center in Recent Jersey, told CNN. Still, the fluid buildup described by Austin’s doctors can occur several ways, he added.

During a prostatectomy, doctors should 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 will not be perfect, sometimes urine can leak out of the body and go into the abdomen,” Stifelman explained.

One other way fluid might construct up is after surgeons remove lymph nodes, in the event that they usually are not sealed completely, “sometimes you’ll be able to have what’s called a lymphatic leak,” Stifelman noted.

Finally, every time tissue is faraway 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.

More information

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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