Growth discovered in routine screening; church officials say they anticipate rapid recovery
LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley was in a Salt Lake City hospital Tuesday recovering from laparoscopic surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his colon, or large intestine.
“The diseased portion of the intestine was successfully removed,” said LDS spokesman Dale Bills in an official statement. “It is anticipated that President Hinckley will recover rapidly and resume his normal duties.”
Hinckley is considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” by members of the 12-million member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At 95 1/2, he is the second oldest man to hold the office, which is a lifetime position. David O. McKay, the 9th president, was 96 1/2 when he died in 1970.
The church statement said the cancerous growth was discovered in a routine screening but did not say whether any further cancer cells were discovered in the procedure, nor whether any further treatment is planned.
The “routine screening” was clearly a colonoscopy, said Bill Nibley, an oncologist at Cottonwood and LDS hospitals. It is now quite common to remove these growths in a laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive procedure than full surgery. Laparoscopic surgery consists of smaller incisions and the use of tiny cameras to help guide the surgeon.
After the cancer cells are removed, the surgeon looks into the abdomen to determine visually if there are any other masses in the abdomen. Any suspicious growth would be evaluated by a pathologist.
But even if doctors did find the cancer had spread, it is unlikely that Hinckley would undergo the chemotherapy as a younger person might.
“At his age, you would have a tough time showing some kind of advantage in that treatment,” Nibley said.
Joe Eyring, a Salt Lake City colorectal surgeon, said however that might not necessarily be the case.
“Chemotherapy for colon cancer has made real breakthroughs lately. Many potential therapies are available depending on [the cancer’s] location and stage of development,” Eyring said. “In general 95-year-old people don’t usually choose chemotherapy but there aren’t many 95-year-old people in his position. This is a unique case.”
As president, Hinckley has traveled to more countries than any previous LDS leader, jetting across the globe, dedicating temples and meeting with church members, government officials and the media.
“I am an old man,” he constantly quips to the press. “Treat me nicely.”
Throughout Hinckley’s more than 70 years of service to his church, he has been remarkably healthy, spending very little time in hospitals. When he was named the LDS Church’s 15th president in 1995,
Hinckley told reporters he had spent only one night in the hospital — not for himself but with a sick child.
In 2001, Hinckley had a pacemaker installed to regulate his heart but the procedure was done on an outpatient basis. His health was fine, he said at General Conference that spring, he was just “a little unsteady on my feet” due to a case of “vertigo,” or dizziness.
Since then, Hinckley has been slowed only by a cane and by the death of his wife, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, in April 2004. On his 95th birthday last June, he acknowledged that he has diabetes right before taking off for an around-the-world trip, stopping in some 11 countries.
He plans to continue that kind of rigorous travel.
Earlier Tuesday, the LDS Church announced the dedication of a new temple in Santiago, Chile on Feb. 26. A cultural celebration featuring the talents of 4,000 Latter-day Saint Chilean youth is scheduled for Feb. 25. Hinckley is expected to rededicate the temple and attend the celebration, according to the press release.
If Hinckley falls ill, the church will continue to be governed by his two counselors in the First Presidency, Thomas S. Monson and James E. Faust, and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency and the senior apostle, will be Hinckley’s successor. He is 78.
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