Pentagon reveals US defense secretary had prostate cancer surgery
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin experienced complications after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer in December, leading to his hospitalization on January 1, officials reported.
President Joe Biden was only informed about Austin’s prostate cancer diagnosis on Tuesday, according to the White House.
The delay in notifying senior officials about Austin’s hospital visit raised concerns about national security and transparency within the Biden administration.
Apologizing for the lack of timely information, the 70-year-old Austin, who plays a crucial role in the US military chain of command, remains in hospital. The Pentagon confirmed his continued hospitalization and recovery, without specifying a discharge date.
Addressing reporters, the National Security Council spokesman acknowledged that the communication regarding Austin’s diagnosis and hospitalization was suboptimal.
President Biden, expressing concern for Austin’s health, learned about the prostate cancer diagnosis only on Tuesday.
The controversy arose as Austin allegedly did not inform the White House and top Pentagon officials about his January hospital stay. His deputy, Kathleen Hicks, was reportedly unaware of his hospitalization despite being asked to assume some of his responsibilities.
During a press briefing, the Pentagon Press Secretary did not provide a clear explanation for Austin’s delayed disclosure of his medical condition.
“I don’t have that specifically,” he said, but noted that a prostate cancer diagnosis was “deeply personal”. Mr. Ryder said notification procedures about the hospital stay were under review to “make sure we’re doing better next time”.
The Pentagon had said this failure occurred because a key staff member had the flu.
On Tuesday, White House chief of staff Jeff Zients directed members of the president’s Cabinet to provide notice when they cannot perform their duties.
Doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the nation’s top military hospital, provided the first full timeline of Mr. Austin’s diagnosis, treatment, and hospitalization on Tuesday.
A check-up in December 2023 “identified prostate cancer which required treatment”, Dr. John Maddox at Dr. Gregory Chestnut wrote.
Mr Austin was admitted to the nation’s top military hospital on 22 December 2023 for a “minimally invasive surgical procedure” to remove the cancer. He was under general anesthesia for this procedure.
He returned to Walter Reed on 1 January 2024 after experiencing “complications” from the procedure, and an evaluation revealed a urinary tract infection. He was transferred to the intensive care unit the next day for further treatment, including for “abdominal fluid collections impairing the function of his small intestines”.
Dr. Maddox and Dr. Chestnut said that during this January stay, Mr. Austin “never lost consciousness and never underwent general anesthesia”.
The doctors wrote that Mr. Austin’s infection has cleared and “he continues to make progress and we anticipate a full recovery although this can be a slow process”.
Doctors emphasized that cancer was caught early and said that his “prognosis is excellent”.
Prostate cancer affects millions of Americans, and about 1 in 8 American men will develop the condition in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.
African American men are at particular risk of the disease. They are more likely to develop the cancer than other men, and about twice as likely to die of the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control.