Colin Powell undergoes 'routine' surgery for prostate cancer

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The Independent US

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, had successful surgery yesterday for prostate cancer.

Officials said that the operation had been scheduled for some time and was a "routine intervention", although the news revived speculation as to the future career of America's most senior diplomat.

The State Department said that the surgery was carried out yesterday morning at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington and that Mr Powell, 66, was expected to remain at the hospital for between two to five days.

After that a spokesman said that he would be on a reduced schedule while he recovered. The State Department said that Mr Powell would return to full-time work early next year.

"There [are] no complications and a full recovery is expected," said Richard Boucher, a spokesman for the State Department. "I just spoke to the secretary's doctor a few minutes ago. I'm happy to report that he's out of surgery, that everything went fine. The doctors say he had a localised prostate cancer. They say he did extremely well."

Officials said that the surgery was scheduled some time ago. Brenda Greenberg, a spokeswoman for the department, said that President George Bush was told about the surgery about two weeks ago and that Mr Powell's deputy, Richard Armitage, had been authorised to act in his absence. In preparation for the surgery, Mr Powell had cleared his diary and had no trips abroad planned for the rest of the year.

But Mr Powell's absence from his desk at a potentially crucial time during America's operations in Iraq revived speculation about his future. Most observers have presumed that Mr Powell would not serve a second term should Mr Bush be re-elected.

This summer he dismissed a report that said he and Mr Armitage had made clear their intention to stand down in 2005 as "nonsense". He repeatedly said that he served at the pleasure of the President.

A senior official in the State Department denied that Mr Powell's surgery had any bearing on his current job or future career. "[It is] something he's getting taken care of and after that he'll be back on the job," he said. President Bush is sending a former secretary of state, James Baker, on a post-war fence-mending trip to Europe this week on a delicate diplomatic mission aimed at erasing the crushing Iraqi debt that would normally have been handled by Mr Powell.

About 190,000 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year, and about 30,000 men died of the disease in 2002, according to statistics compiled by the American Cancer Society. Statistics show that black men have the highest rates of prostate cancer in the world - something attributed to a variety of reasons ranging from genetics to poorer health care.

While death rates for the disease have been declining for both whites and blacks for a decade, the death rate is still twice as high for black Americans as for whites.