Chavez to return to Cuba for more cancer treatment

/ Source: news services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday he will seek authorization from Congress to return to Cuba to resume cancer treatment, and expected to start chemotherapy in the coming days.

Chavez said he would go to Havana on Saturday "to begin what we've called the second phase."

Chavez said he was sending a letter to the president of Venezuela's National Assembly to secure authorization for his trip, as required by the constitution.

Chavez announced his plans after meeting with Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala at the presidential palace. Humala wished Chavez the best in "this personal battle you are leading."

On Wednesday, the 56-year-old socialist leader provided new details about both his June 20 surgery in Cuba and his post-operation treatment, suggesting he anticipated a long road to recovery from cancer.

He said in a phone call to state TV that he would now start the second phase of treatment and expected a third phase "that could be a bit hard." He said the purpose would be to "armor the body against new malignant cells of this type."

"It would most likely require the use of methods that are known ... depending on the evolution and these follow-up diagnoses, but it could be radiation therapy or chemotherapy," Chavez told state television in a phone call.

'My God, it's a baseball'
Chavez still did not reveal what sort of cancer is involved.

He said the operation lasted about six hours and removed a tumor that was "encapsulated."

"I had a big, big tumor," Chavez said. "When I saw that image, I said, 'My God, it's a baseball.'"

Since his return to Caracas on July 4, Chavez has limited the length of his televised appearances, saying he is under strict orders from his doctors.

Chavez said Wednesday that he was recovering well, and suggested some of his foes hope he does not.

"I have cancer, but not in the way some would want," Chavez said.

He earlier said the operation was in his pelvic region, but denied Wednesday that his colon had been cut during the surgery.

That implies Chavez could have suffered bladder, kidney, prostate or rectal cancer, although doctors consider the rectum part of the colon, said Dr. Michael Pishvaian, a cancer specialist at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center who was not involved in the Venezuelan leader's treatment.

Another possibility is a sarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer that can occur anywhere in the body and that often is encapsulated, or contained within a pouch of tissue.

Radiation is given to kill any remaining tumor at the original site. Chemotherapy is to treat any tumor that has spread or to kill stray cancerous cells that might seed a new tumor.

"He's essentially probably getting these treatments in the hopes of preventing any recurrence of the disease," Pishvaian said. "The idea is to try to eradicate any microscopic disease that might be present."

Radiation typically involves daily treatments for four to six weeks. Chemotherapy is given periodically for about six months, depending on the regimen and how well the patient tolerates treatment, Pishvaian said.

In most cases in which a tumor is removed, patients must go through a recovery period to be able to tolerate radiation treatment or chemotherapy, said Dr. Javier Cebrian, chief of surgery at University Hospital of Caracas.

Cebrian, who is not involved in treating Chavez, said various characteristics of the tissues affected by a tumor are more important factors than a tumor's size. He said each patient reacts differently to chemotherapy and radiation, and may be able to "lead a normal life and carry out his or her work."

Chavez said his first phase of post-surgery treatment has turned out well, "thanks to God and to medical science, and to this body, which seems tougher than what I myself believed."

'40 cups of coffee'
Chavez said Wednesday that he has achieved a "recovery of vital signs, well, recovery of weight, recovery of all blood levels," though he said he was still about 31 pounds (14 kilograms) below his earlier weight.

"I'm now getting close to my weight of 85 (kilograms)," or 187 pounds, Chavez said. "I was at more than 100 kilos (220 pounds) ... I looked like a battle tank."

Chavez, who is up for re-election in late 2012, has been actively posting messages on Twitter and has appeared on television in the past several days leading a Cabinet meeting, doing stretching exercises with aides and attending Mass.

Chavez said cancer has led him to reflect about what he called "fundamental errors" in his lifestyle, such as drinking "40 cups of coffee in one day," carrying three cell phones, eating whatever was available and "not sleeping, not letting my ministers sleep."

He also acknowledged it has been a serious mistake to be habitually "talking too much."

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.