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Argentina president to undergo surgery for thyroid cancer

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez will be operated on for thyroid cancer in January, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.
Image: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is shown Dec. 10 inside the Casa Rosada presidential palace after being sworn in for her second term in Buenos Aires.Martin Acosta / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Cristina Fernandez has thyroid cancer, but test results Tuesday show that it remains limited to a lobe in the right side of her neck, and has not metastasized or spread into her lymph nodes, her spokesman said.

Alfredo Scoccimarro said the cancer was discovered during a routine exam on Dec. 22, and that Fernandez received the results from follow-up tests hours before the announcement.

Fernandez, 58, will undergo surgery on Jan. 4 at the Hospital Austral in Buenos Aires and then take 20 days of medical leave, during which Vice President Amado Boudou will run the country. Meanwhile, she will keep up her normal routine, Scoccimarro suggested, noting that she will appear at several events on Wednesday as planned.

This kind of thyroid cancer is highly survivable, with more than 95 percent of patients living at least 10 years after detection, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The usual treatment is to surgically remove as much of the cancerous material as possible, and then follow up with radioactive iodide treatments, taken orally. This substance helps to destroy any remnants of the cancerous gland and provide for clearer images showing any additional cancer, the NIH said on its Web site.

After surgery, patients usually must take medicine — levothyroxine sodium — for the rest of their lives to replace a hormone that the thyroid glands produce. Blood tests every six to 12 months to measure thyroid levels also are recommended.

Fernandez is only the latest South American leader to be diagnosed with cancer. Presidents Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil all have undergone treatments recently.

Presidential doctors Luis Buonomo and Marcelo Ballesteros said the operation will be led by Dr. Pedro Saco, chief of the surgery department at Hospital Austral and chief of the Head and Neck Service of the oncology institute at the University of Buenos Aires. Saco also trained in cancer centers in Houston and New York, the hospital said.

Thyroid surgery is not without risk: the NIH says a nerve that controls the vocal cords can be damaged, and doctors sometimes accidentally remove the parathyroid gland, which helps regulate blood calcium levels.