Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been affected with the diseases that is widely-spread among millions men of his age - prostate cancer. Olmert, 62, announced Monday that he had a small cancerous tumor in his prostate gland. Olmert will have to undergo surgery to have the tumor removed.
The tumor was found amid preparations for a Mideast conference in the U.S.A. The conference is called by George W. Bush to push Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts forward. Olmert insisted that the ailment and its treatment will not detract from his ability to run his country, and U.S. and European officials said his condition was not likely to delay the gathering.
Ironically, Olmert's opposite number for the conference, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, himself battled prostate cancer, undergoing surgery in Washington in 2001.
Olmert said Monday that the disease was caught early and that he would have surgery "over the next few months." Vice Premier Haim Ramon said the surgery would be performed after the conference.
"I will be able to carry out my duties fully before the treatment and within hours afterward," Olmert said. "My doctors ... informed me that there is a full chance of recovery and there is nothing about the tumor that is life-threatening or liable to impair my performance or my ability to carry out the mission which has been bestowed upon me."
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Olmert's illness was not likely to delay the conference. "We wish him very well," she said.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union's commissioner for external relations, agreed with Perino. "I've seen Prime Minister Olmert in the morning. I must say he was serene, he was joking, he was open and he was very much in control of himself," she said. "Personally I don't think that this will jeopardize the talks."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Olmert. "The secretary spoke with him this morning to wish him a speedy recovery," spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
He added that he did not expect Olmert's illness to affect Rice's plans to visit Israel and Palestinian territories beginning this weekend.
Israeli leaders traditionally kept information on their private lives and health from the public, but that changed abruptly when Olmert's predecessor, Ariel Sharon, was rendered comatose by a stroke in January 2006.
Taken by surprise, many Israelis felt they should have been better informed about their leader's ill health, and that concern clearly informed Olmert's swift and detailed announcement of the diagnosis Monday.
One of Olmert's doctors, Yaacov Ramon, said treatment could wait several months without any risk, and that surgery should eliminate the cancer completely. The chances of full recovery are 95 percent, he said.
He said men who have the surgery are usually hospitalized for three days, followed by a recuperation period at home during which they can work. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was expected to take over from Olmert if he is incapacitated.
The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland beneath the base of the penis that makes seminal fluid.
Ramon said doctors planned to remove Olmert's entire prostate gland. Treatment often leads to problems having sex or controlling the bladder, so finding a way to distinguish which tumors can safely be left alone is the field's top priority.
According to Cancer Research UK, more than 670,000 men worldwide are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, making it the second-most common form of the disease in men after lung cancer. It is found mainly in men over the age of 55, and the average age of diagnosis is 70, according to the European Society for Medical Oncology.
Olmert, who first entered parliament in 1973, was suddenly catapulted into the prime minister's seat after Sharon's 2006 stroke. Considered a back-room operator with considerable political talent but little charisma, Olmert nonetheless led the new Kadima Party formed by Sharon to victory in parliamentary elections two months later. Sharon remains unconscious and is hospitalized in a long-term care facility.
Though pilloried for mishandling Israel's war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon that summer, Olmert has managed to keep his coalition government together, surviving in office despite dismal approval ratings.
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