Archbishop Diagnosed with Cancer

By George Gilson

Doctors say both liver and colorectal cancers are primary, and express hopes that treatment may be feasible, possibly abroad

DOCTORS at Athens' Aretaeion hospital confirmed what many had for days expected - that Archbishop Christodoulos is suffering from both colon and liver cancer.

In a June 20 news conference where no questions were taken, surgeon Dionysios Voros said that both the colorectal cancer (which was treated with a colectomy, cutting a segment of the intestine and reattaching the ends) and the liver cancer were primary, meaning that they had not metastasised from another part of the body.

In a message released on June 20, Christodoulos thanked his flock and other well-wishers for the outpouring of sympathy. "I thank everyone from the

Archbishop of Athens and
All Greece Christodoulos
bottom of my heart for their love and support for me," he wrote, noting that people's prayers are a strong source of support. "With the help of the doctors and above all of God, I pray that I will soon be able to hug you all together and each one separately."

President Karolos Papoulias visited the archbishop on June 20, but upon leaving hospital said he was too emotionally moved to make a statement. A variety of politicians from all parties have filed through the hospital, expressing sympathy.

Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos flew to Athens from Istanbul on June 16 expressly to visit Christodoulos, calling the move a "brotherly duty". Even the former king of Greece, Constantine, visited on June 19.

Voros, an associate professor of surgery at Athens University who performed the surgery on June 12, said the hepatoma (or liver cancer) is a "few centimetres" in diameter and is most likely related to a chronic case of hepatitis from which the archbishop has long suffered.

"From the position and extent, it is possibly treatable," Voros said, noting that the cancer is in the lower right lobe of the liver. Doctors said the liver is now functioning well, and that "at the appropriate time, the appropriate therapeutic course will be decided".

The condition of the liver is the most serious aspect of Christodoulos' condition in the long term. Aside from cancer and hepatitis, he is also suffering from cirrhosis. Most hepatoma patients are not eligible for resection, or surgical removal of the tumour, either because of the size, the presence of multiple tumours or cirrhosis. But there are a variety of alternative therapies.

Doctors are in touch with several major liver treatment centres in Europe and the United States in order to determine possible therapies for the cancer and other liver ailments.

There has been talk of a possible liver transplant, but the prospect is distant given the current complications of Christodoulos' condition, highlighted by the fact that he was already in the Intensive Care Unit for 10 days by the time doctors released some of the biopsy details on June 21. Post-operative complications include the troubling delay in the functioning of his small intestine and a pulmonary infection, Voros said. The continued malfunction of the intestine could require a second operation.

Doctors said Christodoulos' colorectal cancer was an adenocarcinoma, a common cancer, and that the removal of the tumour is believed to have treated it. They expressed hopes that the archbishop could be released next week, though that may be optimistic.

(Posting Date 5 July 2007)

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