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     Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

Prostate cancer proved fatal

Lack of appetite and weight loss marks of
disease, the most common cancer among men

Friday, September 29, 2000

MONTREAL -- While Pierre Trudeau was suffering from Parkinson's disease, a debilitating neurological condition, he actually died of prostate cancer.

In recent months he also battled pneumonia and depression linked to the death of one of his sons.

Prostate cancer is the most frequently occurring cancer among men, affecting one in every nine at some point in their lifetime. About one in every 27 men die of it.

The prostate is a sex gland, making the fluid that carries sperm. Located between the bladder and the rectum, it is about the size of a walnut.

It surrounds part of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder.

It is estimated that 16,900 Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year and about 4,200 will die of the disease. It is the fastest-growing cancer in the country, in large part because of new diagnostic techniques, notably the PSA blood test.

Prostate cancer is easily treated if recognized early. Treatment depends on a man's age, his health and how fast the cancer is spreading. Prostate cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation, hormone treatments, or various combinations.

It is not known what kind of treatment Mr. Trudeau received, though he was seen leaving an out-patient clinic at the Montreal General Hospital on a couple of occasions, suggesting he had continuing treatment.

When the cancer cells spread beyond the gland to other parts of the body, as it did with Mr. Trudeau, the disease causes a number of symptoms like loss of appetite and weight loss.

Friends said that Mr. Trudeau, who loved to dine everywhere from fast-food outlets to gourmet restaurants, lost his interest in food in recent months. While there were rumours that the former prime minister had cancer back in January when he was admitted to hospital during a bout of pneumonia, friends said that the always-private politician did not like to discuss his health problems. The signs of Parkinson's disease, however, were visible during the last year of his life.

The primary symptoms include rigidity -- notably a stone-like face -- tremors and difficulty with movement, and they slowed Mr. Trudeau considerably. Many had put down his sallow demeanour down to sadness at the death of his son Michel rather than a medical condition.

Parkinson's is caused by the death of certain brain cells that make the brain stop producing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is involved in many kinds of movements.

Parkinson's disease, while it is degenerative, does not tend to kill those who are afflicted.

Still, it affects more than 60,000 Canadians, most of them elderly. The disease has become quite well known in recent years, however, after actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with the condition.

The causes of Parkinson's are unknown but they are believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Similarly, the underlying causes of prostate cancer are unclear. Heredity, diet and physical activity are all believed to have an influence. What is known is that it is a disease that tends to strike the elderly.

Mr. Trudeau's health problems came to light in January when he was put in hospital for treatment of pneumococcal pneumonia, a bacterial infection that often develops after a respiratory tract viral infection like the flu.

Health-care professionals often call pneumonia the "old person's friend" because it kills many elderly people who are afflicted with other health problems, and it often does so quickly. Since his pneumonia, the former prime minister added breathing problems to his growing list of health woes.

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