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Defense secretary treated for prostate cancer, complications

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin underwent treatment for prostate cancer in late December before returning to the Maryland military hospital with a urinary tract infection days later.

The latest from the Pentagon clears up what was behind Austin’s trips to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as the fallout from communication mistake continues to roil political circles in Washington D.C.

A statement from doctors at Walter Reed said Austin, 70, had a regular screening in early December that identified prostate cancer that required treatment. On Dec. 22, Austin was admitted to Walter Reed where he underwent “a minimally invasive surgical procedure called a prostatectomy to treat and cure prostate cancer,” according to his doctors. The procedure required general anesthesia.

Austin returned home the morning after the surgery.

“His prostate cancer was detected early, and his prognosis is excellent,” the doctors said in a joint statement released Tuesday.

On New Year’s Day, Austin returned to Walter Reed with nausea with severe abdominal, hip, and leg pain. An initial evaluation revealed a urinary tract infection. The next day, on Jan. 2, the medical team moved Austin to the ICU.

“Further evaluation revealed abdominal fluid collections impairing the function of his small intestines,” Dr. John Maddox and Dr. Gregory Chesnut said. “This resulted in the back up of his intestinal contents which was treated by placing a tube through his nose to drain his stomach.”

He continues to get better.

“He has progressed steadily throughout his stay,” the doctors said. “His infection has cleared. He continues to make progress and we anticipate a full recovery although this can be a slow process. During this stay, Secretary Austin never lost consciousness and never underwent general anesthesia.”

Austin’s absence and the Pentagon’s communication breakdown prompted scrutiny amid tensions across the globe.

The Pentagon said it would avoid a repeat through a review of notification procedures in cases where the secretary is unable to perform duties.

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