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Cancerous cells discovered in Cardinal George’s kidney, liver

Round Lake  Saturday  3/24/12    Cardinal Francis George gives Homily St. Joseph Church Round Lake Saturday

Round Lake Saturday, 3/24/12 Cardinal Francis George gives the Homily at St. Joseph Church in Round Lake Saturday afternoon. The Archbishop of Chicago was the main celebrant at Saturday's special Mass which marked St. Joseph's 100th anniversary. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 19, 2012 6:09AM

Cardinal Francis George’s latest bout with cancer, revealed Friday afternoon in a brief statement from the Archdiocese of Chicago, leaves the 75-year-old spiritual leader with a serious and “quite guarded” prognosis, medical experts say.

A statement posted on the archdiocese’s website said the cardinal underwent a procedure on Wednesday at Loyola University Medical Center.

On Friday, “he met with his doctors who reviewed with him test results which showed there were cancerous cells in the kidney and in a nodule, which was removed from the liver,” the statement read.

“His doctors will work with the Cardinal to plan a course of treatment. The Cardinal will be resting at home this weekend and will be on retreat next week.”

The archdiocese released no other information about the leader of 2.4 million Catholics in Cook and Lake counties.

George battled cancer six years ago. He had radical surgery to remove his cancerous bladder, prostate and part of his right ureter in July of 2006, spending 19 days at Loyola University Medical Center — and emerging cancer-free.

“It almost certainly means he has metastatic cancer,” the type of cancer that can spread to other organs, according to Dr. Walter Stadler, a medical oncologist and professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.

Stadler, who is not treating George, and other experts said that from the information released, it could be kidney cancer. But based on the cardinal’s medical history it is likely a more dangerous type of cancer called urothelial or transitional cell cancer.

Urothelial cancer cells, which can grow inside the lining of the kidney, “are closely related to the bladder cancer that he had and also commonly spread to the liver,” said Stadler.

Physicians have likely performed tests to make sure of the source of the tumors, said Dr. Dennis Pessis, a professor of urology at Rush University and president of the American Urological Association.

“If this is indeed truly a metastatic lesion from the original transitional cell cancer, the prognosis is going to be quite guarded,” Pessis said.

Chemotherapy is the typical treatment and could last three or more months. The treatment would definitely affect the cardinal’s ability to work, the doctors said. Surgery on transitional cell cancer is rare, but possible. It also would be followed up with chemotherapy.  

The news came as a shock to many in the archdiocese. Though the cardinal has had other medical problems including a childhood bout with polio and a broken hip in 2007, he appeared to be in good health.

“The cardinal has looked so good these last few years it’s taken everybody by surprise,” said Monsignor Ken Velo, senior executive of Catholic collaboration for DePaul University and president of the Big Shoulders Fund.

Velo said the news went out by email to archdiocese priests just before it was posted on the web site.

“Nobody’s going to have more prayers said for him this weekend than Cardinal George,” Velo said. “There are 300 parishes in the archdiocese and I’m sure a lot of people will be thinking about him.”

Cardinal George was born in Chicago and grew up in St. Pascal Parish on the Northwest Side. He was ordained here in 1963 and spent time in Rome and the Pacific Northwest. In 1997, Pope John Paul II named him Archbishop of Chicago.

He replaced Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died at age 68 in November 1996 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

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