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Japanese Emperor Undergoes Prostate Cancer Surgery - 2003-01-18

Japan's Emperor Akihito has undergone surgery for prostate cancer. His surgeons say the prognosis for a full recovery are good.

Doctors who performed the procedure Saturday at University of Tokyo hospital said they expect Emperor Akihito to make a full recovery. The 69 year old Emperor Akihito was diagnosed with prostate cancer last month and surgeons say there is no evidence the cancer has spread. It is the first time a Japanese monarch has undergone surgery outside the Imperial Household hospital. The emperor's wife, Empress Michiko, and their youngest daughter, Princess Sayako, were at the hospital during the operation.

In the United States, prostate cancer surgery is a fairly routine procedure often performed by a urologist. A seven doctor team of urologists and cancer specialists from the University of Tokyo and Japan's National Cancer Center performed the emperor's surgery.

Emperor Akihito is expected to remain in the hospital for a one month recuperation. Patients in Japan often remain hospitalized for lengthier periods than those in the United State.

Though the Imperial Household Agency did not offer additional comment about Saturday's surgery, this is the first time it shared information with the public, breaking with the traditional secrecy surrounding the Japanese royal family's health. When Akihito's father, the late Emperor Hirohito, was suffering from intestinal cancer in 1989, the Imperial Household Agency said he had an ulcer, and waited until after his death to disclose the nature of his illness.

Until recently, Japanese doctors often would not tell their patients when they had cancer because they thought it would destroy their will to live.

By midday Saturday, hundreds of people had signed official books at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to wish for Emperor Akihito's recovery. Some 6,300 others have registered at various locations across Japan since the emperor was hospitalized Thursday.

The emperor's son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will perform his father's official duties during the recovery period.