French President Hollande reveals prostate problems

PARIS (AFP) - French President Francois Hollande revealed on Wednesday he had surgery in 2011 for an enlarged prostate, reviving memories of how some of his predecessors hid serious medical problems from voters.

Hollande's office stressed that the enlargement had been benign and had had no lasting impact on the 59-year-old Socialist leader's health.

It said in a statement that "no medical follow-up was deemed necessary after the operation," which took place the year before he was voted in as president and before he was selected as the Socialist Party candidate.

But the revelation nevertheless topped news bulletins in France, where the president's health is a sensitive issue as a result of former leaders having covered up serious conditions for years.

Francois Mitterrand, France's president from 1981 to 1995, knew he had prostate cancer from the beginning of his first term but kept it a secret until he was hospitalised in 1992.

Mitterrand, who had also hidden the existence of a secret daughter, Mazarine, from the French people, died in 1996.

Another French president, Georges Pompidou, died in office in 1974 having hidden the fact he was suffering from a form of blood cancer.

Jacques Chirac - who succeeded Mitterrand - suffered a minor stroke in 2005, three years after he was re-elected as president, but that was made public shortly afterwards.

Hollande's revelation also turned the spotlight on an often misunderstood condition which affects millions of men.

Prostate enlargement affects around one third of men over 50 and is not usually a serious threat to health.

Many believe that having an enlarged prostate means having an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. But, according to medical experts, that is not the case.

"Having an enlarged prostate does not increase or reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer," said French urology professor Aurelien Descazeaud.

"When people have surgery for an enlargement, the surgeon takes the opportunity to check for any sign of cancer at the same time but the two conditions have strictly nothing to do with each other." The prostate, a small gland found only in men, is located between the penis and bladder.

The cause of enlargement is unknown but most experts believe it is linked to changes in hormone levels that occur as men get older.