PM: Condition won't affect my duties

Olmert learned of treatable prostate cancer last week; says public has "right to know" about illness.

olmert prostate 224 88 (photo credit: GPO)
olmert prostate 224 88
(photo credit: GPO)
Despite Monday's dramatic press conference at which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he carried on with his schedule throughout the day. Olmert will keep his appointments for the rest of the week and intends to travel to Annapolis for the US-sponsored Middle East meeting when the time comes, sources in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said Monday night. Olmert, 62, told the nation and the world, in a press conference that was broadcast live on television and radio, he underwent a routine medical examination at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer after returning from Russia some 10 days ago. Test results he received before the weekend showed an early stage of prostate cancer, in which the tumor was microscopic, he said. Olmert said he had made it his practice in recent years to undergo a complete annual physical, mainly to allow the early detection of any disorders. He said his doctors, Sheba Medical Center's Prof. Shlomo Segev and Prof. Ya'acov Ramon, told him the growth was "microscopic" and could be removed by a brief surgical procedure. Both men were at Olmert's side when he delivered his announcement. "According to the doctors' opinion, there will not be a need for radiation or chemotherapy," Olmert said to a room packed with reporters who were called to the PMO on two hours' notice. "The surgical procedure is planned for the next few months. I will be able to fully carry out my duties before the procedure and as soon as a couple of hours afterward," he said. Olmert said his doctors informed him he had a full chance of recovery, and that the growth discovered was not life-threatening. Even though he had no legal obligation to brief the public on his condition, he wanted to make a full revelation "because the citizens of Israel have the right to know and I feel a public obligation to inform them about this matter," he said. Olmert's spokesman, Yaakov Galanti, said President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (who as the prime minister's senior deputy would assume his responsibilities were he to become incapacitated) and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik were informed of the situation on Monday morning. Livni is currently in China. After reading a brief, 14-sentence statement, Olmert - along with his top staffers - left the packed room. His doctors remained to field questions. Sources close to Olmert said he decided to make the announcement because he wanted to avoid the type of rumors that swept through the country in the two hours between the time the PMO called a press conference and the time it took place. A request by the PMO for the media not to announce the press conference until it actually took place was not honored. Olmert's doctors repeatedly stressed that the microscopic growth was not life-threatening, and would not curtail the prime minister's ability to function. They also said a decision would be made closer to the date of the operation whether the removal of the prostate would be done under a general or local anesthetic. If Olmert were to be placed under a general anesthetic, his responsibilities would temporarily be passed on to Livni. Segev, who was also Ariel Sharon's physician and rushed to Sharon's Negev ranch after the former prime minister suffered his second stroke, termed what ailed Olmert a "limited growth" that was in its early stages and had not spread to other organs. A blood test on October 19 showed the first indication of prostate cancer, he said, and a biopsy that was performed a week later revealed that Olmert had a cancerous growth. Since the growth posed no short-term threat, the doctors said, and due to a medical recommendation that doctors wait six weeks after a biopsy before operating to remove the cancerous gland, a decision was made not to operate immediately. They emphasized that Olmert was considered otherwise very healthy and that there was no link between the growth and stress. They also said the growth did not raise the chances of Olmert being diagnosed with any other cancers later in life. Olmert, an avid jogger, is known to exercise daily. He last had surgery in January, when he underwent a 40-minute blepharoplasty procedure to lift drooping eyelids that were impairing his vision. Ramon said Olmert could opt to avoid the prostate surgery by being placed under close medical supervision for 10 to 15 years, but the prime minister had decided to go through with the procedure. Ramon said the growth discovered in Olmert was limited and did not represent any immediate danger that would necessitate an urgent procedure. "It is possible to wait a number of months without any risk," he said. The procedure generally necessitated a three-day hospital stay, he added, and a further recuperation period at home that would not prevent Olmert from working. The doctors said the discovery did not call for any additional medical attention for Olmert when he traveled abroad, and that many people function with this type of growth for years without even knowing about it. Sources in the PMO said a set of new regulations dealing with Olmert's health that had been drawn up will be implemented in the coming days and will be obligatory for all prime ministers. According to these new regulations, the prime minister will be obligated to present a detailed report of his health situation once a year and will have to undergo an annual medical examination. In addition, he will have to be accompanied by a physician on trips abroad, and a staff of three physicians will be consulted whenever medical problems arise. According to the sources, the new regulations were an outgrowth of the lessons learned from Sharon's strokes.