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Ex-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has surgery for pancreatic tumor

Updated May 14, 2018 - 12:42 pm

WASHINGTON — Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his pancreas and will undergo chemotherapy treatment, according to a statement released by his family on Monday.

Reid, 78, a Democrat who was the longest serving U.S. senator in Nevada history, was recovering at Johns Hopkins Cancer Center in Baltimore.

Doctors discovered the “the problem early during a routine screening,” the family statement read.

“His surgeons are confident that the surgery was a success and that the prognosis for recovery is good,” the statement read. “He is now out of surgery, in good spirits and resting with his family.”

Though many news outlets reported the tumor was cancerous, the family statement did not state that Reid had been diagnosed with cancer.

But Dr. Navneet Sharda, medical director at the Cancer Care Center in Las Vegas, said the fact that Reid’s doctors are planning chemotherapy indicates it is almost certainly cancer.

Difficult to detect in early stages

Sharda said that pancreatic cancer is largely asymptomatic and difficult to detect in its early stages. In later stages, symptoms of a pancreatic tumor can include weight loss, diabetes and sudden difficulty with digestion. In some cases, a tumor on the head of the pancreas will obstruct the flow of bile, causing jaundice, Sharda said.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Cancer Society estimated that about 55,400 new cases and 44,300 deaths from the disease were expected in 2018.

Treatment usually involves some combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Sharda said. Though doctors won’t prescribe nutritional therapy alone, they may recommend high doses of juicing, herbal supplements and oral antioxidants.

“Pancreatic cancer treatment is not very well developed,” he said. “So we’re looking at all options.”

When diagnosed early, though, the survival rates can be high, Sharda said.

“(Reid) is fortunate,” Sharda said. “He’s unfortunate in that he has pancreatic cancer, but he’s fortunate that it was found early.”

Reid served as a Democratic senator from Nevada from 1987 to 2017. He served as Senate majority leader from 2005 to 2015.

Good wishes from allies, rivals

Well-wishes poured in from both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who succeeded Reid as Democratic leader, said on Twitter that he had spoken with the family and that Reid’s operation “went well.”

“We are all praying for dear Harry’s speedy recovery,” Schumer said in a Tweet.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer, also sent Reid his best wishes in a Tweet.

“From one cantankerous senator to another, sending my prayers & best wishes to @SenatorReid as he recovers from a successful surgery,” he said.

Nevada’s Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval called Reid “a fighter,” and said his thoughts and prayers were with Reid and his family.

Rep. Mark Amodei used similar language, adding, “but I’m certain he’s up for the challenge.”

Reid has had a colorful life and career. Raised in the hardscrabble mining town of Searchlight, Nevada, he was a boxer who eloped with his wife after her parents disapproved of their relationship.

He worked as a Capitol Hill policeman and earned a law degree before being elected to the House of Representatives, and then the Senate in 1987.

He stepped down from the Senate in 2017. He was succeeded by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat whom Reid supported in the race to replace him.

Cortez Masto issued a statement saying “Senator Reid is no stranger to a fight.”

“He beat his opponents in the boxing ring, took on the mob in Nevada, and moved bills in the Senate that one one believed could be one,” Cortez Masto said.

“He’ll beat cancer too. I wish him a speedy and successful recovery,” Cortez Masto said.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Jessie Bekker contributed to this report.

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