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The Politics of Bob Dole's Prostate Cancer

By Christine Gorman

(TIME, April 1) -- By the time Bob Dole learned that he had prostate cancer, he had already mounted two unsuccessful campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination. At first, he assumed that his condition would rule out a third attempt. No one who has had cancer has ever been elected President of the U.S. Then, like so many American men who catch the malignancy in its early stages, Dole found out that his chances of beating it were excellent. His tumor, which doctors removed along with the rest of his prostate five years ago, was quite small and did not seem to have spread to the rest of his body. In subsequent blood tests, Dole's PSA levels have held steady at zero. From a medical point of view, the candidate's prostate cancer is not an issue.

But what are the politics of prostate cancer? Other political leaders--France's Francois Mitterrand and Jordan's King Hussein, for example--have suffered from the disease, but none quite so publicly as Dole. He is honorary co-chairman of US TOO, a national support group for prostate-cancer survivors, and has sponsored prostate-cancer screenings at such improbable venues as the Kansas State Fair and the 1992 Republican Convention in Houston.

Dole has been quite forthright in discussing his disease. As the host at a meeting of cancer survivors 16 months after his surgery, Dole spoke knowingly about the common side effects of impotence and incontinence. "Unless we talk to each other fairly frankly, we don't learn much in these sessions," he told the group. "Some of the things that we read about don't return as quickly as advertised."

Such topics make many men squeamish, but Dole's candor is likely to help him. Last year he released a detailed nine-page summary of his medical records that showed him in robust health. Whenever he talks about prostate cancer, Dole urges men to have routine PSA tests. He has even made his own results public.

His age, 72, may still be a political liability. But in terms of recurrence, it works in his favor. Prostate cancer grows more slowly in older men than in younger. So even if some malignant cells escaped from Dole's prostate before his surgery, odds are that he could run for President three more times without having to worry about his cancer coming back.

--By Christine Gorman. Reported by Karen Tumulty/Washington

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