Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin treated for prostate cancer, Walter Reed says

Lloyd Austin

Officials have shared the cause of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s surprise hospitalization earlier this month as he continues to recover at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

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Austin was hospitalized Jan. 1 following complications from a surgery performed in December to treat prostate cancer, according to doctors at the hospital. Pentagon officials did not share news of his hospital stay for days, sparking widespread criticism and concerns about transparency.

In a statement released Tuesday, doctors at Walter Reed said prostate cancer was detected during a health screening in early December and required treatment.

Austin was admitted to the hospital on Dec. 22 for a prostatectomy, “a minimally invasive surgical procedure ... to treat and cure prostate cancer,” according to the statement from trauma medical director Dr. John Maddox and Dr. Gregory Chestnut, director of the Center for Prostate Disease Research at the hospital.

Austin returned home on Dec. 23.

“His prostate cancer was detected early and his prognosis is excellent,” doctors said.

Days after the surgery, on Jan. 1, Austin was admitted to the hospital again with nausea and severe abdominal, hip and leg pain.

“Initial evaluation revealed a urinary tract infection,” according to doctors. “On Jan. 2, the decision was made to transfer him to the ICU for close monitoring and a higher level of care. Further evaluation revealed abdominal fluid collections impairing the function of his small intestines.”

Doctors treated the issue through non-surgical means.

“He’s progressed steadily throughout his stay,” according to the statement released Tuesday. “His infection is cleared. He continues to make progress and we anticipate a full recovery, although this can be a slow process.”

Doctors stressed that Austin has not lost consciousness at any point since his Jan. 1 hospitalization. He was under general anesthesia during his Dec. 22 surgery.

The Pentagon failed to immediately disclose Austin’s medical issues to officials, including President Joe Biden, prompting an avalanche of criticism, The Washington Post reported. John kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters on Tuesday that Biden only learned Austin had prostate cancer earlier in the day.

On Saturday, Austin acknowledged concerns about transparency, adding that he “could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed.”

“I commit to doing better,” he said. “But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”

The incident prompted White House chief of staff Jeff Zients to issue a memo to Cabinet secretaries ordering them to notify his office if they can’t perform their duties, according to The Associated Press.

On Tuesday, Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said Austin “remains in good spirits” as his recovery continues. Austin has been working from the hospital, where he has access to required secure communications capabilities, Ryder said.

It remained unclear Tuesday when Austin would be released from the hospital.

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