24 August 2006

Does Castro have cancer?

What is wrong with Cuban president, Fidel Castro? The Cubans are not saying, sparking widespread speculation about his health.

Information surrounding the condition of Cuban president Fidel Castro is still very hazy, sparking widespread speculation about his health.

The recent release of a video and pictures showing Castro in hospital has reassured Cubans that he is still alive, but left little doubt that he was unwell.

"I can say that it is stable, but a real evolution in my health takes time," Castro is reported as saying.

But Cubans and the world are in the dark about how sick he really is, what ails him, and what kind of surgery he underwent two weeks ago, before announcing on July 31 that he was temporarily ceding power to his younger brother Raul, according to Sapa reports.

Op for abdominal bleeding
According to the Cuban government Castro has undergone surgery for "abdominal bleeding."

Doctors in the United States said Castro's condition could be life-threatening, but since details of his symptoms were unknown, it was hard to say what caused the intestinal bleeding: severe ulcers, a colon condition called diverticulosis or even cancer, were all mentioned as possibilities in a Sapa report.

The website,, has speculated that Castro may have metastatic colon or stomach cancer and could be dead in the next few weeks.

Most commentators do, however, agree that the information is currently too sparse to make an accurate diagnosis of his condition.

What the different scenarios would mean

Stomach ulcer: a sore where the lining of the stomach or duodenum (upper intestine) has been eaten away by digestive juices.

Most ulcers can be cured, but sometimes they develop potentially life-threatening complications, such as bleeding, penetration into other body tissues, and obstruction of the digestive system.

Ulcers are usually treated effectively with drugs; endoscopy (a tube used to view inside the stomach) is used to cauterize bleeding ulcers.

Surgery is only used for serious complications, or severe recurrent ulcers. Such surgery may itself result in weight loss and anaemia (which would cause the patient to look pale and feel fatigued).

Diverticulosis: balloon-like sacs (diverticula) develop in the large intestine. Diverticula are not dangerous in themselves, but can sometimes bleed and become inflamed and infected.

The condition is treated by putting the patient on a high-fibre diet, sometimes with medications.

If bleeding recurs or the source of bleeding cannot be found, surgery to remove most of the large intestine may be needed. A 'giant' diverticulum (2.5-15cm) usually requires surgery.

Stomach cancer: malignant (cancerous) cells, which can spread to other parts of the body, are found in the tissue of the stomach.

Stomach cancer is curable if diagnosed early. However, intestinal bleeding is a sign of advanced stomach cancer, which has a poorer prognosis.

Surgery is a common treatment for all stages of cancer of the stomach: depending on how advanced the disease, part or all of the stomach may be removed. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy may also be employed.

Colon cancer: also called colorectal cancer, this is cancer of the colon (large bowl) or rectum. Intestinal bleeding could be a sign of colon cancer at different stages. Anaemia can also indicate colon cancer.

Colon cancer is usually treated with surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, and additional treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy if the cancer has spread.

If the section of bowel removed is small enough, the surgeon can re-connect the healthy bowel. Sometimes, however, it is necessary for an opening (colostomy) to be made in the abdominal wall, so that faeces can be removed and collected in an attached colostomy bag.

The prognosis for colon cancer depends on how advanced the disease is: if the cancer is caught early, before it has spread, chances for survival are good. Advanced colon cancer that has spread to other organs carries a very poor survival rate.

Weight loss, as a symptom of disease and a result of treatment, is common in both stomach and colon cancer.

Conflicting reports
According to reports from Sapa, the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo ran a story saying "Cuban authorities" informed Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his party's leaders that Castro's health was worse than publicly acknowledged. The newspaper reported Castro apparently has abdominal cancer and that the unidentified Cuban authorities said he would be too incapacitated to reassume power.

These reports have been vehemently denied by the Cuban government. – (Health24)

Read more:
Stomach cancer facts
Stomach cancer
August 2006


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