Cardinal Francis George fighting cancer again

Cardinal Francis George fighting cancer again
Cardinal Francis George celebrated mass at St. Linus Church, the day before his 75th birthday, in January 2012. (Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune)

Six years after recovering from bladder


, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George has been diagnosed with cancer again, according to a statement released by the Chicago Archdiocese today.

George underwent a procedure at Loyola University Medical Center on Wednesday and reviewed results with his doctors today, the statement said. Those results showed there were cancerous cells in the kidney and in a nodule, which was removed from the liver, the statement said.


The cardinal's doctors will work with him to plan a course of treatment. After resting at home this weekend, he will be on retreat next week, the statement said.

George underwent surgery for bladder cancer six years ago. The form of cancer that struck George was relatively unusual, accounting for about 10 percent of bladder-cancer cases.

With carcinoma in situ, the tumor was considered superficial—a flat growth limited to the wall of the bladder. But the cancer cells were of an aggressive type and could spread rapidly to other parts of the body. At the time, doctors did not believe the cancer was metastatic.

During 5:15 p.m. mass on Friday, an announcement was made to churchgoers about George's illness, saying he would return home on Saturday and then leave for a retreat.


During the petitions portion of the mass, a solemn crowd prayed for the cardinal's "health of mind and healing of his body."

Father Matt Compton, who resides at

Holy Name Cathedral

, said a parishoner told him of the news around 5 p.m. and they decided to pray for him.

He said it's hard to say what happens next since little information has been released.

Any kind of leadership change likely would be decided by George and the archdiocese's administrative staff, he said.

"There's been a little bit of conversation before the mass this evening and it was a little bit of a surprise, even for the some of the priests," Compton said.

"Speaking only for myself, it certainly was a surprise to hear that, because it seems as though in recent years since he was treated for cancer several years ago that the health reports have been good," Compton said. "And saddening, too. We do not want to see him or anyone go through treatments for cancer."


As she made her way into

Holy Name Cathedral

Friday afternoon, Andrea Quinn, 67, said she was "shocked and saddened" to hear the news.

The Glen Ellyn resident called the cardinal "a strong, strong man with a good outlook."

Barry Blake, 71, was sad to hear cancer had stricken the cardinal again.

Blake, who is battling

prostate cancer

, said he believes the cardinal will find a way to fight through.

"It's just a part of life," said Blake, of Chicago. "I'm sure he understands that."

Medical experts said George’s cancer most likely is a transitional cell, or urothelial, carcinoma that spread from his bladder to his liver.

“Knowing that the Cardinal had bladder cancer and full removal of his bladder, this is probably tumor progression from his previous cancer,” said Dr. Dennis Pessis, professor of urology at

Rush University Medical Center

and president of the American Urological Association.

Dr. Walter Stadler, a medical


and professor of medicine at the

University of Chicago

Medicine, said tissue lining the inside of the kidney is similar to that inside the bladder and ureter. It is not uncommon for patients with bladder cancer to get these other urothelial cancers of the upper tract, he said.

Both doctors spoke only in general terms, using the information that was released about George’s condition by the archdiocese, because neither have treated him.

Another possibility is a primary tumor of the kidney or renal cancer, both doctors said.

“Those two possibilities are so different that the treatments would be vastly different,” Stadler said. “If it’s a renal cancer, which is less likely, than there would be a discussion of removal of the kidney, or of the tumor on the kidney. If its urothelial, the discussion would be about



A biopsy determines if the cancer metastasized from the original tumor or from another organ.

Stadler said a renal cancer would have a much better prognosis.

Urothelial cancer

, unfortunately, has the worse prognosis,” he said.

Pessis agreed.

“If there's a metastasis of the cancer to the liver, the patient will require chemotherapy,” he said. “Sometimes there is a good response, but if it is a progression from the original cancer, obviously the prognosis is very guarded.”

Tribune reporters Jennifer Delgado and Deborah Shelton contributed.