Local News

Torre Cancer Surgery Called Successful

Posted March 17, 1999

— New York Yankees manager Joe Torre will spend a few days recuperating in a St. Louis hospital after surgeons successfully removed his cancerous prostate gland.

The surgeon who removed the gland, Dr. William Catalona, said Torre's prognosis is excellent, and the doctor believes the disease has not spread.

``It was very routine,'' Catalona said Thursday. ``I think he had a very early prostate cancer and it went very smoothly.''

Lab tests on the removed gland and surrounding lymph nodes won't be complete for a few days, but Catalona said, ``The way it looked to the naked eye, the prognosis is excellent.''

Catalona, a pioneer in the detection and treatment of prostate cancer, said Torre's cancer was so small he couldn't see it even as he held the removed gland in his hand. It was diagnosed by the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test that Catalona developed a decade ago, and confirmed by a biopsy.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in American men and the second deadliest behind lung cancer. The walnut-sized gland is at the base of the bladder in men. Men 50 and older are most at risk.

In cases where cancer is confined to a removed prostate, the patient's prognosis is essentially as good as for a man who never had the disease, Catalona said.

Torre, 58, underwent the 2-1/2-hour surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where he was expected to remain for 3-4 days. Torre will then recuperate in Florida, said Jeff Wehling, a family friend.

Catalona pioneered a surgical technique known as nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy, which he used on Torre. The procedure generally results in fewer problems, including impotence, than conventional prostate surgery.

Catalona said there appeared to be very little damage to the nerves surrounding Torre's prostate.

Torre's wife, Ali, was ``ecstatic'' after learning about the successful surgery, Wehling said. She then called family members and acquaintances, including Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Catalona said Torre seemed at ease prior the surgery, talking baseball and joking with doctors.

``He was very upbeat, cracking a lot of jokes - he was really very amusing,'' Catalona said. ``I can see now why everybody likes him so much.''

Barnes-Jewish spokeswoman Kathryn Holleman said the hospital has received hundreds of calls from well-wishers. Wehling said Torre has also received numerous flowers and cards, many from St. Louisans who watched Torre when he played for, and later managed, the Cardinals.

``He's found greater success in New York, but the people in St. Louis still have incredibly fond memories,'' Wehling said.

There is no timetable for Torre's return to the World Series champions, but Catalona said his patients typically go back to work 6-12 weeks after surgery.

``I'm going to encourage him not to go back too soon,'' Catalona said. ``He's got a very stressful job.''

Torre was a four-time All-Star for the Cardinals, for whom he played from 1969 to 1974. He was the National League's Most Valuable Player award winner in 1971, when he hit .363 with 137 runs batted in, both tops in the league.

Torre managed the Cardinals from 1990, when he replaced Whitey Herzog, until he was fired in 1995. He earlier managed the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets.

Catalona was recommended to Torre by former Yankees general manager Bob Watson, and by Cardinals Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial, hospital officials said. Catalona performed prostate cancer surgery on both men.

Torre's cancer was diagnosed early because of an annual PSA exam, Catalona said. The problem was found during a checkup at the Yankees' spring training camp in Tampa, Fla., and announced last week.

``You're dealing with a tumor that doesn't let its presence be learned unless you're looking for it,'' Catalona said.


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