Growths in Bush's Colon Not Suspicious, Doctor Says

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Doctors found and removed five growths from President Bush's colon yesterday and sent them for tests to determine whether they are cancerous, but the White House said they were small and did not appear to be cause for alarm.

Bush transferred power to Vice President Cheney for two hours while undergoing the colon exam and recovering from anesthesia, only the third time a president has formally handed over authority because of temporary incapacity since ratification of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution in 1967.

The growths, or polyps, small bits of extra tissue in the large intestine, were all less than a centimeter across, according to the White House, and therefore probably benign. They will be tested this weekend at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, and the White House hopes to have the results back as early as tomorrow to rule out cancer. Bush also had polyps removed from his colon in 1998 and 1999 that proved harmless. No polyps were found during a 2002 exam.

"It's not unexpected for someone of his age and history to have found polyps, and [doctors] stated to me that the polyps were small, some very small," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said. "And they said none of them was worrisome."

I. David Shocket, a gastroenterologist at Washington Hospital Center, said the results described by the White House almost certainly mean the polyps are not dangerous. "The kind that he had are all benign," Shocket said. "There's not even a question that these will all be benign. There should be no concern. The important thing is he got screened . . . and he's setting a good example."

The colonoscopy was conducted at Camp David by a five-doctor team supervised by Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard J. Tubb, the White House physician. Invoking the 25th Amendment, Bush signed letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) notifying them that he would "transfer temporarily my Constitutional powers and duties to the Vice President during the brief period of the procedure and recovery."

The letters were sent by fax at 7:16 a.m., triggering the official transfer. White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and White House counsel Fred F. Fielding were on hand at Camp David. Once the letters were sent, Fielding called the vice president's chief of staff, David S. Addington, who informed Cheney that he was acting president.

Cheney was at his Chesapeake Bay home in St. Michaels, Md., with his wife, Lynne, and spent his short time in power reading in the back yard and hanging out with his dogs, spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said. "He had a routine Saturday morning," she said by e-mail. "Nothing occurred that required him to take official action as Acting President."

Doctors used, rather than general anesthesia, a drug called propofol under monitored anesthesia care, which puts the patient to sleep but leaves him able to breathe on his own. The doctors at Camp David stopped administering the anesthesia at 7:41 a.m., and Bush awoke three minutes later, Stanzel said.

Bush waited until 9:21 a.m. to reclaim authority from Cheney with another pair of faxed letters to Pelosi and Byrd. He had breakfast with Bolten, Fielding and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, went for a walk with Bolten and dog Barney, and had briefings and went on a 70-minute bike ride later in the day, Stanzel said.

Bush similarly turned over power to Cheney during a June 2002 colonoscopy. When Ronald Reagan had a colonoscopy in 1985, he handed his presidential authority to Vice President George H.W. Bush following the procedures outlined by the 25th Amendment, though Reagan said he did not think the amendment applied.

Nearly 154,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, and 52,000 will die, making it the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. The society recommends that everyone older than 50 get tested and cited Bush's exam to promote legislation intended to increase access to screening and treatment services.

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