JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced Monday that he has prostate cancer but that the disease is not life threatening and he will continue to perform his duties.
Speaking to a packed news conference in Jerusalem, the Israeli leader said he will have surgery and that he has "full chances" of recovery. He said the disease was caught at an early stage.
Olmert, 62, took office in March 2006 after his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, suffered a debilitating stroke.
"I will be able to fulfill duties fully before my treatment and hours afterward," Olmert said. "My doctors told me that I have full chances of recovery."
One of Olmert's doctors, Shlomo Segev, said the prime minister had a biopsy on Oct. 19 and got the results a week later. Another of his doctors, Yaacov Ramon, said Olmert has a "limited growth" that poses no short-term threat. He said treatment could wait several months without any risk.
The announcement came at a delicate time in Mideast peacemaking, just weeks ahead of a U.S.-brokered summit designed to relaunch long-stalled peace talks. It was not clear how or if Olmert's illness would affect his already troubled efforts to frame a common outline with the Palestinians ahead of the conference, scheduled to take place in Annapolis, Md., in either November or December.
No further details were immediately available on Olmert's condition or plans for treatment.
The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland beneath the base of the penis that makes seminal fluid. Prostate cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. In most men, it grows so slowly that it will never threaten their lives. 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.
The primary risk factor is age, with the disease commonly striking after a man is after 50.
It can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy and occasionally chemotherapy, among other treatments.
Leaders in Israel do not issue regular pronouncements on their health, as is the case in some other countries. Health issues were thrust into the fore two years ago when Olmert's predecessor, Ariel Sharon, suffered the first of two strokes. The second, hemorrhagic stroke in January 2006 rendered him comatose, and he remains hospitalized in a long-term care facility until this day.
Olmert, who first entered parliament in 1973, was suddenly catapulted into the prime minister's seat after Sharon was incapacitated. Defying initial predictions, he led the new Kadima Party that Sharon had formed to victory in parliamentary elections two months later.
Though widely pilloried for mishandling Israel's war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon that summer, Olmert used his political talents to keep his coalition government together, surviving in office despite dismal approval ratings.
In recent months, Olmert has been meeting regularly with Abbas in an effort to draft a joint statement on peace ahead of the Annapolis conference. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants a relatively detailed document outlining a future peace deal, but Olmert prefers a more vague document.
Several high-profile U.S. politicians have disclosed their battles with cancer in recent years, including three current presidential candidates.
Rudy Giuliani, the one-time New York City mayor, was sidelined politically in 2000 after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, only to re-enter the fray ahead of next year's presidential race. Former "Law & Order" star Fred Thompson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and Republican Sen. John McCain has had three bouts with melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer.
Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, announced that her breast cancer had returned, and White House spokesman Tony Snow recently had surgery for cancer that spread to his liver.