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Early Detection Critical

Early Detection CriticalTufts doctors praise Senator John Kerry’s handling of his prostate cancer diagnosis, citing importance of early diagnosis and treatment. Washington, D.C.

Boston [02.12.03] On Tuesday, U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) announced that he was among the 220,000 American men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. Detected in an early stage, Kerry's cancer will likely be fully cured, say his doctors. And the senator's public announcement of his condition sends an important message about the value of early detection, say Tufts experts.

"If all cancer is confined to the margins of the prostate, the outcome is usually quite good," Dr. John Long - an associate professor of urology at Tufts School of Medicine - told The Boston Herald, citing the value of diagnosing the cancer before it spreads.

While it is too early to determine for sure that Kerry's cancer is contained within his prostate, Long told the Herald that the early signs appear to be good.

"His doctors must be favorably impressed by his biopsy," Long - a urologist at Tufts-New England Medical Center - told the Herald.

Treatment options for prostate cancer range from chemotherapy and hormones to surgery.

"Removing a cancerous prostate is a delicate operation: The walnut-sized prostate gland surrounds the urethra and must be cut away without severing nerves," reported the newspaper. "The surgery, known as a radical prostatectomy, takes two or three hours and can be done under wither a local or general anesthetic."

Designed to reduce post-surgery complications - including incontinence and impotence - the surgery carefully removes the prostate without damaging the surrounding nerves.

The procedure is not without risks.

"Sometimes you can't tell until you're in the operating room whether you can spare the nerves or not," Dr. Alex Althausen, a graduate of Tufts' medical school and the urologist who performed Kerry's biopsy in December - told The Boston Globe.

But given Kerry's age, 59, and the early detection of his cancer, the Senator's choice of treatments was a good one, according to Tufts' Dr. John Libertino, a clinical professor at Tufts School of Medicine.

"If I were in the senator's shoes, I would elect to have radical prostatectomy," Libertino told the Globe, explaining that he does not recommend radiation treatments for men under 70 years old.

While some Boston-area surgeons complained that the Massachusetts senator plans to undergo treatment at a hospital in another state, Libertino defended Kerry's decision.

"I have no axe to grind with [Kerry's surgeon in Baltimore]," Libertino - a urologist at Lahey Clinic, one of Tufts' teaching hospitals - told the Globe. "The senator lives in Washington, he works there, and it makes eminent sense for him to be cared for by an excellent surgeon [near] there."



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