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updated: 8/29/2012 10:24 AM

Cardinal George to undergo chemotherapy for cancer

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  • Cardinal Francis George

    Cardinal Francis George
    Associated Press

Associated Press

Cardinal Francis George, who announced this month that cancer had been found in his right kidney and his liver, will undergo four months of chemotherapy, the Archdiocese of Chicago said Tuesday.

This is George's second bout with cancer. Doctors removed his bladder, prostate and part of his right ureter six years ago following the discovery that he had bladder cancer.

The archdiocese said the cardinal will maintain his regular work schedule during the chemotherapy, which will begin Sept. 5. However, he will scale back his public schedule during the third week of each three-week treatment session, when chemotherapy is not administered to allow the cardinal's immune system to recuperate.

The 75-year-old is the spiritual leader of 2.3 million Roman Catholics in the Chicago area.

He told reporters at a banquet in suburban Chicago on Saturday night that he had assumed he had "licked" cancer and the latest news left him a bit "fearful." At the same time, George said, "We all live with the Lord as much as possible, so if this is a call to be with him for eternity, then that's a welcome call in that sense."

Doctors removed a nodule, or growth on George's liver, and surrounding tissue on Aug. 15. Tests confirmed the nodule and his right kidney contained cancerous cells. The news release said cancer wasn't found anywhere elsewhere but noted is impossible to detect cancer cells in the bloodstream.

The archdiocese said George decided to undergo chemotherapy after meeting with his doctors Monday. He is being treated by doctors at Loyola University Medical Center and a team at Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn.

While the archdiocese has said that doctors have not determined whether George's current cancer is linked to the earlier one, one cancer specialist said such a recurrence is not uncommon and the early cancer may have spread to the cardinal's liver.

"It seems like he has a tumor that has come back to the right side," said Dr. Sam Chang, professor of urologic surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

Chang also said chemotherapy was likely chosen as the course of treatment because "if the cancer did come from the bladder, it is circulating in the blood" and "there could be microscopic deposits elsewhere."

But, he said the fact that doctors surgically removed the nodule and surrounding tissue, "implies it was in a single area" of the body.

Another cancer specialist, Dr. Otis Brawley, an oncology professor at Emory University, suggested that if George has kidney cancer, that might bode well for his recovery.

"There are new drugs that are very effective in treating kidney cancer," Brawley said.

George, who was ordained in 1963, was chosen to lead the Archdiocese of Chicago when Cardinal Joseph Bernadin died in November 1996. Pope John Paul II named George a cardinal in January 1998.

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