Colombia's president announces he has cancer
Juan Manuel Santos will undergo surgery to remove tumour located in his prostate gland on Wednesday.
Last Modified: 02 Oct 2012 05:41
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to undergo surgery on Wednesday[Reuters]

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos has announced that he has prostate cancer. He said the tumour was caught early and would be removed this week.

The 61-year-old Santos told reporters in announcing the cancer at the presidential palace, his wife Maria Clemencia at his side, that he has a 97 per cent chance of a full recovery.

"It's a small tumour located in the prostate gland and the prognosis is good, that is to say it's not aggressive," Santos added.

He said he planned to fly to Lima, Peru later on Monday for a summit of South American and Arab leaders and then undergo surgery on his return to Bogota on Wednesday.

Santos said the surgery would be performed under local anesthetic so he would not need to relinquish temporarily his presidential responsibilities.

Detected early

Santos said his doctors told him the surgery places him in no danger, "but they have recommended that after the surgery and after I leave the hospital, I don't travel for several weeks".

"I am calm because this cancer was detected very early thanks to my discipline in repeating medical exams year after year"

- President Santos

He was also joined by his doctor, Felipe Gomez, who characterised Santos' situation as "common among men". 

The news comes two years into Santos' four-year term and with his government about to begin formal peace talks this month with Colombia's main leftist rebel group.

"Known as a hardliner when he served as defence minister under former president Alvaro Uribe, Santos is now readying for peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who have been waging a long-running insurgency," said Al Jazeera's Chris Arsenault reporting from Caracas, Venezuela.

"Some sectors within Colombia's business and military elite oppose the talks. Santos is saying the cancer isn't serious, but if he is out of commission for a while it could further complicate peace negotiations." 

"Santos seems to be following in the steps of other Latin American leaders, including Hugo Chavez in neighbouring Venezuela , who have battled cancer recently. Unlike Chavez who received treatment in Cuba, Santos is likely to seek help in the US, where he is seen as crucial ally on a continent where Washington's influence has waned in recent years."

Santos said his medical records would be completely public.

 President Santos, who took office in August 2010, is latest Latin American leader to be diagnosed with cancer

That contrasts sharply with the president of neighbouring Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, who has refused to release medical records regarding the cancer that was identified last year and for which he has been treated in Cuba.

Santos did not say exactly when the cancer was detected, but he said it was found by his doctor in Colombia after a routine annual physical  check-up, and confirmed by specialists at Memorial Sloan Kettering hosptial in New York during his visit last week for the UN General Assembly.

"This could happen to anyone. Prostate cancer is much more common than people imagine," said Santos. "I am calm because this cancer was detected very early thanks to my discipline in repeating medical exams year after year."

Santos said he has a family history of prostate cancer and that his older brother, Luis Fernando, had exactly the same operation 14 years ago "and today is in perfect health".

Santos said that because of the family history he had a Protein-Specific Antigen test. When it indicated an abnormal increase, he said, his doctor decided to do a biopsy. And that was when the cancer was discovered.

Dr Gomez agreed with Santos that the cancer had been caught early and said "that if all goes as it should I hope he will recover quickly and continue to be our president".


Al Jazeera and agencies
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