Docs: Argentine Leader's Thyroid Wasn't Cancerous

Published January 8, 2012 12:18AM (EST)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentine President Cristina Fernandez didn't have cancer after all.

After having some of Argentina's leading cancer surgeons completely remove her thyroid gland, tests showed no presence of any cancerous cells in the tissue, presidential spokesman Alfredo Scoccimarro said Saturday.

"The Presidential Medical Unit has the satisfaction of communicating that the team at the Austral University Hospital informed that tissue studies ruled out the presence of cancerous cells in the thyroid glands, thus modifying the initial diagnosis," Scoccimarro said.

Fernandez doesn't even have to swallow the radioactive iodine that patients usually take after thyroid cancer surgery, to make sure any remaining cancer cells are killed, the spokesman said.

Fernandez, who underwent the surgery Wednesday just 25 days after beginning her second term, is out of the hospital and recovering at the presidential residence in suburban Olivos.

The trouble is that without her thyroid gland, the 58-year-old leader faces a lifetime of hormone replacement therapy.

Preoperative thyroid cancer diagnoses are notoriously difficult. Experts say figuring out whether growths are benign or malignant may be impossible without removing at least part of thyroid, and many doctors opt for removing the entire gland just to be sure.

In the president's case, it took postoperative tests to show that the cells in question were "adenoma" and not "carcinoma."

Fernandez's spokesman said the president thanked the medical team led by the hospital's surgery chief, Dr. Pedro Saco, an expert in cancers of the head and neck. Later Saturday, she added her own thoughts in a tweet, saying: "Now from Olivos, we thank all the people, citizens, activists and personalities, for the signs of affection and concern."

The news prompted raucous cheers and chants from several hundred supporters holding vigil for days outside the hospital, carrying signs saying "Be Strong Cristina!"

The idea that she had cancer had worried many Argentines, who re-elected her with a 54 percent landslide in October in part because none of her rivals seemed as capable of maintaining economic growth and social stability.

Since she and her late husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner, began governing in 2003, Argentina has come back strong from a disastrous world-record debt default and currency devaluation a year earlier. The economy has grown at an average annual rate of 7.6 percent, poverty and unemployment are down and the wealth gap has narrowed. Their administrations have transferred billions of dollars to the poor through social programs.

But their style of rule has been highly personal, concentrating power in a very small circle of loyal advisers. Kirchner's sudden death of a heart attack in 2010 during his wife's first term left many Argentines worried about whether Fernandez could maintain the couple's model of governing, and the cancer diagnosis renewed those fears.


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By Salon Staff

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