Giuliani's cancer clouds N.Y. race against Clinton; Mayor hopes to stick with Senate campaign if his health allows


WASHINGTON -- Adding a new measure of uncertainty to the high-intensity New York Senate race, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani disclosed yesterday that he has prostate cancer and said it was too early to predict what effect that might have on his campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Giuliani, 55, broke the news of his condition in a confident, often nonchalant manner at a morning news conference at New York's City Hall. He said he learned of the diagnosis Wednesday and was told by his doctor that the disease was treatable and in a "very early stage."

Prostate cancer, the second-most-common cancer in American men, after skin cancer, can be treated if caught before it has spread outside the prostate gland.

Giuliani said he would spend the next two to three weeks deciding on a course of treatment.

He has "no idea," he added, whether his medical condition might force him to abandon the Senate contest, a race that has been billed as the most expensive and closely watched nonpresidential campaign ever. Cancer specialists said that under normal circumstances, Giuliani would be sidelined for a few weeks at most.

"I hope that I'd be able to run," the mayor said. "But the choice that I'm going to make is going to be based on the treatment that's going to give me the best chance to have a complete cure."

Campaign aides sought to dismiss speculation that he might abandon the race. Juleanna Glover Weiss, a spokeswoman, said that for now, Giuliani is going ahead with a full schedule of campaign events, including appearances tonight and this weekend, and his first televised town hall meeting on Wednesday, to be carried nationally on MSNBC.

Clinton, on a campaign swing in upstate New York, said that, "like all New Yorkers," her "prayers and best wishes" were for Giuliani's "full and speedy recovery." She later phoned the mayor and the two talked briefly.

Recent polls have shown Clinton running even with Giuliani. The first lady trailed earlier in the year.

One veteran analyst of New York politics said the cancer diagnosis was unlikely to damage Giuliani's election chances and that the mayor's initial handling of the matter might have helped him, by softening his image.

"He was being very candid," said Lee Miringoff, director of polling at Marist College in New York. "He became a real person having a real problem. In politics, that's OK."

Prostate cancer is the nation's second-leading cause of cancer deaths in men, after lung cancer. About 31,900 men will die of the disease this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Over the past decade, the death rate from prostate cancer has dropped sharply in the United States, with advances in early detection and treatment.

Giuliani's father, Herman, died of prostate cancer in 1981, at age 73, and might well have had the disease when he was his son's age, said Dr. Patrick C. Walsh, chief of urology at Johns Hopkins Hospital. A family history of prostate cancer doubles the likelihood that a man will develop the disease, Walsh added.

Walsh, perhaps the world's best-known prostate surgeon, said Giuliani should have no trouble undergoing treatment for the disease while running for the Senate.

If Giuliani chooses to have the prostate, a walnut-sized gland located beneath the bladder, surgically removed, it would interrupt his campaign for three or four weeks, Walsh said. If Guiliani chooses radiation, it would be carried out over one to six weeks, largely on an outpatient basis.

Side effects from radiation or surgery can include impotence and bladder control problems, though advances in treatment have helped reduce their incidence.

Giuliani is the latest celebrity to be found to have prostate cancer, which will affect about one in six men. Last year, New York Yankees manager Joe Torre had his cancerous prostate gland surgically removed. Giuliani, a Yankee fan, said Torre will be "a source of a lot of strength and good advice."

Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, has been a strong proponent of regular testing for prostate cancer. The former senator underwent successful prostate surgery in 1991, at age 68.

The disease occurs mainly in men over the age of 50 and can often be detected through the prostate-specific antigen blood test.

Giuliani said his PSA was found to be elevated in a routine physical examination 2 1/2 weeks ago. A biopsy Wednesday at Mount Sinai Medical Center confirmed the cancer, which the mayor said had not spread beyond the prostate.

Giuliani's comments at the news conference could feed speculation about whether he will stay in the race. He has not formally announced his candidacy and could still face a challenge in the Republican primary in September.

Now in his second term as mayor, Giuliani, cannot run for re-election. He has raised more than $19.3 million for his Senate race, compared with Clinton's $12.8 million. He is continuing to travel the state and hire campaign staff.

The disease adds another intensely personal element to the soap opera-like Senate race. Guiliani's marriage to Donna Hanover, a television celebrity and actress, is scrutinized almost as closely in New York as the Clintons' marriage has been nationally.

It was announced recently that Giuliani's wife, who rarely appears with him at public events and wasn't present at yesterday's news conference, will be co-starring next month with Kirstie Alley in a two-week run of the off-Broadway hit "The Vagina Monologues." Created by feminist playwright Eve Ensler, a friend and supporter of Hillary Clinton's, the play is based on interviews with women about issues such as sexual abuse, the discomfort of pelvic examinations, orgasm and childbirth.

In making public the details of his condition, prompted by the fact that a reporter saw him entering the hospital Wednesday, the mayor appeared relaxed and came off, by turns, as pensive and flip.

He said the prospect of having cancer "makes you think about what's important in life. ... Do I have an answer yet? No, I don't have an answer."

Having the disease that killed his father "brings up very painful memories," Giuliani said. "I miss my father every day of my life."

Not that anyone should think that being a cancer patient will somehow make him a nicer guy.

"No way. No way. You're not gonna get that," he said, grinning.

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