How bad is Hugo Chavez's cancer? Very bad, say physicians

Hugo Chavez probably has colon cancer. He is clearly a sick man -- very sick. And he could be facing treatment for eight to nine months. That's the consensus of physicians who watched a video that Chavez made in Cuba, and that was broadcast to stunned Venezuelans on Thursday evening. In it, Chavez confirmed widespread suspicions about his health, saying he'd undergone two surgeries in Cuba to remove a pelvic abscess and cancerous tumor. He hinted that he was receiving chemotherapy. But Chavez failed during his 20 minute address to reveal the type or stage of his cancer -- or say when he'd return to Venezuela. The country's political situation is growing more uncertain the longer Chavez is gone.

"My first duty as a revolutionary is to fully regain my health," said the former coup leader and paratrooper.

Normally, the garrulous Chavez speaks without notes during television and radio addresses that are long and rambling -- sometimes lasting hours. But in Thursday's address, he read from a prepared statement and seemed like a shadow of himself -- nothing like the talkative, high-energy Chavez that Venezuelans are used to. It was something physicians familiar with Chavez couldn't help but notice.

According to an article in the Miami Herald by reporter Frances Robles, physicians in Venezuela and Florida who watched Chavez's address agree his cancer is serious:

"What struck me is that at one point during his announcement, he misspoke and said 'evolution' instead of 'evaluation.' He corrected himself, but it was odd that in a video that was so staged - complete with props of the Venezuelan flag and a painting of Simon Bolivar - they did not do a retake," said Douglas Leon, president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation. "What does that say? To me, it says he can only stand up for about 20 minutes, and they couldn't let him stand for the time it would take to do it over."

Based on what Chavez revealed, his prognosis does not look good, according to other physicians quoted in The Herald's article:


"The presence of an abscessed tumor is not a good sign, said Dr. Thomas J. George Jr., an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Florida and a specialist in gastrointestinal cancers.

"This is usually because the cancer is fairly aggressive,'' he said. "This could be a variety of different cancers -- none of them good."

The top possibility, he said, would be colorectal cancer, followed by prostate, bladder, or perhaps a sarcoma -- a soft tissue cancer.

"Prostate would probably be the best option in terms of prognosis," George said.

He also said it's possible that the original abscess drainage procedure itself could have contaminated the area with cancer cells. Treatment, doctors agreed, would be aggressive radiation and chemotherapy.

"Prostate tumors normally do not cause this kind of abscess," said Leon Lapco, president of the Venezuelan-American Doctors Association and a surgeon at Mercy Hospital. "I would say it's his colon, the large intestine. It's the most likely to cause diverticulitis, perforations and abscesses."

Chavez has been in Cuba for three weeks. In Venezuela, he has no credible successor to take his place should his health continue to deteriorate. All of which throws his vision of "21st Century socialism" for Venezuela into doubt.

Chavez admitted during his television address that he'd failed to take care of his health -- a trait that could perhaps be expected in a man widely described as a narcissist -- a vain glorious strongman who believed he was on a divine mission to lead Venezuela for most of his life. In the end, the seeds of Chavez's destruction may, ironically, have been contained in his own personality.

Believe it or not, Al Jazeera seems to have the best news report on YouTube regarding Chavez's television address to Venezuelans:

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