Lloyd Austin: Defence Secretary recovering from prostate cancer surgery, hospital says

Walter Reed military hospital provides account of Pentagon chief's recent treatment

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in Israel last month. AP
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US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin had surgery to treat and cure early-stage prostate cancer last month, then was admitted to hospital on January 1 after developing complications from the procedure, the hospital that treated him said on Tuesday.

The Pentagon provided the detailed account of Mr Austin's condition after it failed to notify President Joe Biden and the public for most of last week that America's defence chief had been admitted to hospital and was in intensive care.

“On January 1, 2024, Secretary Austin was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre with complications from the December 22 procedure, including nausea with severe abdominal, hip and leg pain,” the hospital statement written by two senior doctors said.

The initial December procedure required general anaesthesia but Mr Austin, 70, was not anaesthetised during last week's stay, which included time in intensive care.

“He continues to make progress and we anticipate a full recovery, although this can be a slow process,” Walter Reed said.

“His prostate cancer was detected early, and his prognosis is excellent.”

The Pentagon has come under bipartisan criticism for not disclosing information about Mr Austin's case. It also is facing questions about why it initially described Mr Austin's surgery as an "elective" procedure when it was to treat cancer.

Mr Austin's emergency admission to hospital last week came during heightened tensions in the Middle East, where US forces are facing repeated attacks from Iran-backed militias, and as the US conducted a strike in Iraq.

“I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better,” Mr Austin said at the weekend.

But White House National Security spokesman John Kirby said that although Mr Biden learnt of Mr Austin's hospital admission last week, he was only informed of his defence chief's cancer diagnosis on Tuesday morning.

"It's not optimal ... for a situation like this to go as long as it did without the Commander-in-Chief knowing about it or the National Security Adviser knowing about it, or frankly, other leaders at the Department of Defence," Mr Kirby told reporters.

"That's not the way this is supposed to happen."

Pentagon press secretary Maj Gen Pat Ryder said some of Mr Austin's authority was transferred to Deputy Defence Secretary Kathleen Hicks on January 2, but it was only two days later that she learnt he was in hospital.

Maj Gen Ryder suggested that Mr Austin chose not to go public about his cancer diagnosis surgery because of its sensitive nature.

"It's prostate cancer and the associated procedures are obviously deeply personal," he said.

Mr Austin's chief of staff has ordered a review of the matter.

"There were some shortfalls, and so it's important that we go back and look at what those shortfalls were, what could have been done better and make sure that going forward, we're improving this process," Maj Gen Ryder said.

Prostate cancer is the most common cause of cancer among American men, and it affects one in every eight men, Walter Reed said.

Senior correspondent Jihan Abdalla contributed to this report.

Updated: January 10, 2024, 6:07 AM