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Wolf has 'treatable' prostate cancer

HARRISBURG - Gov. Wolf will undergo treatment for what he called a "mild" and treatable form of prostate cancer, but said it would not interfere with his job.

Joined by his wife, Frances, Gov. Wolf listens to a question about his prostate cancer at a news conference in his office.
Joined by his wife, Frances, Gov. Wolf listens to a question about his prostate cancer at a news conference in his office.Read moreAP Photo/Marc Levy

HARRISBURG - Gov. Wolf will undergo treatment for what he called a "mild" and treatable form of prostate cancer, but said it would not interfere with his job.

In disclosing the illness Wednesday, Wolf, 67, did not offer details about his diagnosis or the treatment he expects in coming months. He said only that it would not require him to step aside, even temporarily.

"It really was detected very early. So the procedure is going to be a truly minor one," the governor said at a Capitol news briefing, accompanied only by his wife, Frances. "I'm not going to be incapacitated at all by this."

Prostate cancer is not uncommon in older men, and with early treatment, the prognosis is often good. Still, for the Democrat, in the second year of his first term, the diagnosis lands at a politically stressful time.

Wolf and the Republican-controlled legislature are mired in a historic fight over last year's still-unresolved - and long-overdue - budget, even as his administration this week began defending its proposed spending plan for next year.

The governor appeared relaxed as he shared the news Wednesday, and said it would not impede his efforts to break the multibillion-dollar-budget impasse.

He said he would not require emergency treatment, but sidestepped questions about specific treatment or therapies. It was also not clear if he will need surgery, although he said he would not undergo chemotherapy.

Wolf said he first plans to take a few days off with his family, noting that he has not had a vacation since taking office in January 2015.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men in the United States, behind non-melanoma skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also the second most common cause of death from cancer among white men.

About one in six men develop prostate cancer, said David Chen, director of the urologic oncology fellowship program at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Chen, who is not treating Wolf, said treatment options typically include surgery to remove the prostate or several weeks of mild radiation therapy. Some prostate cancers can simply be monitored and require no treatment, he said.

Surgery requires recuperation time, Chen said, but men can undergo daily radiation for weeks without missing a day of work. Treatment is "very successful" in most cases, he said, and does not affect long-term survival.

According to the National Cancer Institute, 98.9 percent of men survive at least five years after a prostate cancer diagnosis.

Wolf said he publicly disclosed his illness to be transparent - and to urge others to consider getting medical checkups.

"I found this in a routine checkup - and because I had the routine checkup," he said.

He said he was not scared by the diagnosis, and his wife said there was no reason "to be sad" about it.

"We're more than hopeful that he'll beat it," Frances Wolf said.

Other governors have disclosed cancer diagnoses in recent years. California Gov. Jerry Brown underwent treatment for early-stage prostate cancer in 2012, winning a second term afterward. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced shortly after he was elected last year that he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. After months of chemotherapy, he said that he was in remission.

Within an hour of Wolf's announcement, high-ranking officials in the Capitol - including some with whom he has been locked in tense budget negotiations - offered words of encouragement.

"I understand too well the impact that it has on yourself and your family," said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson), a cancer survivor, who echoed the importance of regular medical checkups.

Added Philadelphia Sen. Vincent Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee: "It's never easy to deal with all of life's responsibilities when you have a disease that demands your immediate attention. It doesn't matter if you are a governor or an accountant."

acouloumbis@phillynews.com 717-787-5934 @AngelasInk

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