(Updates with comments by Dodd, cancer expert)
By Gene Cherry
DURHAM, N.C., June 2 (Reuters) - U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Democratic icon and a leading backer of presidential contender Barack Obama, had successful surgery on Monday to remove a malignant brain tumor and should suffer “no permanent neurological effects,” his surgeon said.
“I am pleased to report that Senator Kennedy’s surgery was successful and accomplished our goals,” Dr. Allan Friedman said in a statement after a 3 1/2-hour operation at Duke University’s Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.
After the surgery, Kennedy told his wife, Vicki, “I feel like a million bucks,” an aide to the senator said.
Friedman, Duke’s chief of neurosurgery, did not specify how much of the cancerous tumor he was able to remove. He called the operation “the first step” in a treatment plan for the 76-year-old senator from Massachusetts, head of America’s most fabled political family.
“After a brief recuperation, he will begin targeted radiation at Massachusetts General Hospital and chemotherapy treatment,” Friedman said.
Dr. Mark Gilbert of the University of Texas’ cancer center, speaking at a news conference at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, said: “If all you do is surgery, even if you do a beautiful job, the tumor will be back in one or two months” without other treatments.
Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor called a glioma, a type of tumor that usually kills within three years, after suffering a seizure on May 17.
Massachusetts General said Kennedy’s tumor was in the left parietal lobe of the brain. Several doctors agreed that surgery in this region could affect a patient’s ability to speak and understand language, and perhaps could paralyze the patient’s right side as well.
But Friedman said, “Senator Kennedy was awake during the resection (tumor removal) and should therefore experience no permanent neurological effects from the surgery.”
There was no immediate word on when Kennedy would be able to return to work in the Senate where he has served since 1962 when he took the seat vacated by his older brother, President John F. Kennedy.
In a statement issued shortly before his surgery, Kennedy expressed confidence he would soon be back.
“After completing treatment, I look forward to returning to the United States Senate and to doing everything I can to help elect Barack Obama as our next president,” he said.
Obama, a first-term U.S. senator from Illinois, has been likened to one of Kennedy’s older brothers, Robert, who was assassinated during the 1968 Democratic presidential campaign. President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 in his third year in office.
Sen. Kennedy has been one of the most respected as well as polarizing figures in U.S. politics. He has long been a hero among fellow liberals while scorned by many conservatives.
Yet news of his condition shook Washington last month and prompted colleagues on both sides of the political aisle to offer prayers and words of praise.
“I am deeply grateful to the people of Massachusetts and to my friends, colleagues and so many others across the country and around the world who have expressed their support and good wishes as I tackle this new and unexpected health challenge,” Kennedy said in his statement.
Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, said, “I know Ted is a fighter and he’ll be back on the Senate floor soon fighting for the American people.”
Until then, Dodd said, Kennedy asked him to take the lead on some of his pending legislation, including a bill to upgrade insurance coverage of mental illnesses.
“I’m honored to help shepherd this legislation through until he returns,” said Dodd, who serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chaired by Kennedy. (Additional reporting by Vicki Allen, Maggie Fox and Richard Cowan in Washington; Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago) (Writing by Thomas Ferraro, editing by Chris Wilson)