California Gov. Jerry Brown is being treated for early stage prostate cancer, but the 74-year-old chief executive plans to maintain his regular schedule as he undergoes radiation therapy over the next month, said his office, which released a statement from Brown's oncologist calling his prognosis "excellent."
Brown's office revealed the diagnosis Wednesday in a brief news release but provided few details about his treatment or how the cancer was discovered. Prostate cancer, the second most common cancer to afflict men, is the governor's second diagnosis after he underwent minor surgery in spring 2011 to remove a cancerous skin growth on his nose.
Brown, who became California's oldest sitting governor last year, is typically energetic and appears to be in good health, making his prospects for a full recovery very strong, given the excellent survival rate for men whose cases are caught early.
More than 241,000 new cases of prostate cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year — nearly two-thirds of them age 65 or older. More than 90 percent are early stage, and nearly all men with such diagnoses survive at least five years.
The typical radiation treatment for early stage prostate cancer is five days a week for four to five weeks, said Dr. Ralph de Vere White, urological oncologist and director of the University of California, Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center in Sacramento. Other oncologists said the treatments can sometimes last up to nine weeks.
The three-term governor's "prognosis is excellent, and there are not expected to be any significant side effects" as he undergoes treatment through Jan. 7, said University of California, San Francisco oncologist Eric Small in a statement accompanying the governor's official announcement. Small is Brown's oncologist.
Those who undergo radiation are typically subjected to a series of high-intensity beams of radiation aimed directly at the prostate, a procedure similar to undergoing an X-ray that can take less than half an hour. The side effects can include tiredness and some risk of urinary and bowel problems but most patients can work and live normally.
"It effectively causes the cells of the prostate to die off. The tumor dies off. It's very effective because it's not invasive," said Dr. Mark Litwin, chairman of the UCLA Department of Urology, who is not involved in Brown's care.
Many men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer do not need to undergo treatment, but given the governor's apparent good health, it was likely an easier decision to pursue radiation, said De Vere White, who also is not involved in Brown's treatment.
If you are healthy, as the governor appears to be, "and you are looking out at 10 years, then you go for a treatment that is going to have in excess of a 97 percent cure rate," he said. "It really should have very minimal side effects, should have minimal to no interference with his life, and kind of represents the reason why people advocate for finding this disease early."
Brown's office said his cancer is localized, meaning "the tumor is still contained within the prostate," Litwin said. "Of course, that's what you want because you can treat it much more effectively."
The governor's office did not respond to a question about how the prostate cancer was first detected. Cases are typically found through a PSA blood test or a physical exam.
Brown is coming off a resounding political victory in November after he persuaded Californians to support Proposition 30, a ballot measure that raised the statewide sales tax and increased income taxes for the wealthy and is expected to give Brown smoother sailing to pursue his agenda in 2013.
He has held few public events in the last month, his most recent being the Dec. 5 lighting of the state Christmas tree outside the state Capitol.
Brown previously underwent minor surgery in spring 2011 to remove a cancerous growth on his nose. He was put under local anesthetic and doctors removed basal cell carcinoma, a common, slow-growing form of skin cancer, from the right side of his nose.
Brown is the son of former two-term governor Edmund G. Brown and has spent a lifetime in politics, including terms as the secretary of state, attorney general and mayor of Oakland.
He also was governor from 1975 to 1983, and returned to his former post in 2011 after handily beating former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman.
Associated Press writers Judy Lin and Don Thompson contributed to this report.