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Explainer-Why is US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized again?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized again and was put under general anesthesia on Monday to address a bladder issue. It was his second hospitalization this year following prostate cancer surgery in December.

Here is an explanation of what has been revealed publicly about Austin's medical issues.

WHY IS AUSTIN BACK IN THE HOSPITAL?

Austin, 70, returned to the hospital on Sunday due to symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue, Walter Reed National Medical Center said in a statement. He was placed in the critical care unit after a series of tests, it added, and on Monday underwent non-surgical procedures under general anesthesia to address his bladder issue. The nature of this medical issue has not been fully disclosed.

The hospital said in a statement that a successful recovery is anticipated and that Austin will be closely monitored overnight.

Neither the hospital nor the Pentagon have said whether Austin's latest health issue was a further complication from his original prostate cancer diagnosis and surgery or was a new condition.

HOW LONG WILL AUSTIN REMAIN HOSPITALIZED?

While it remained unclear how long Secretary Austin would remain hospitalized, the hospital said a prolonged stay "is not anticipated." The hospital also said it is anticipated that Austin will be able to resume his normal duties on Tuesday.

His official duties were transferred on Sunday to the Pentagon's No. 2 official, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. Austin canceled a planned trip to Brussels this week for a meeting of NATO defense ministers. His participation in a virtual Ukraine defense meeting is also tentative, depending on his health status, officials said.

"The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery. His cancer prognosis remains excellent," the hospital said.

WILL AUSTIN NEED TO RESIGN?

Austin previously said he had no plans to resign. President Joe Biden has expressed confidence in Austin, even after the Pentagon chief kept his first two hospitalizations secret - even from Biden.

WAS THIS A SURPRISE?

Austin appeared at a news briefing on Feb. 1, saying, "I'm recovering well, but as you can see, I'm still recovering."

At the time, Austin said he was still experiencing some leg pain and doing physical therapy.

WHEN WAS AUSTIN'S PROSTATE CANCER DETECTED AND TREATED?

Austin learned he had prostate cancer in December after routine surveillance for the illness via blood tests to monitor levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), officials said.

On Dec. 22, Austin was admitted to Walter Reed and underwent a prostatectomy, a procedure that according to experts can involve the complete or partial removal of the prostate and nearby lymph nodes.

WHAT WERE HIS COMPLICATIONS?

On Jan. 1, Austin said he felt severe leg pain as well as pain in his abdomen and hip. After a 911 emergency phone call by his staff, an ambulance took Austin to Walter Reed, where doctors found that he had several issues that needed treatment, including a bladder infection and abdominal problems.

The next day, according to officials, Austin also experienced fever and chills as well as shallow breathing. The medical staff decided to transfer him to the critical-care unit for several days for closer monitoring, officials said.

"Up to one-third of elderly patients hospitalized with UTIs (urinary tract infections) can experience some degree of confusion and reduced awareness of their surroundings," a researcher from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles was quoted as saying on the hospital's website.

About 15% to 20% of men undergoing prostatectomy develop urinary tract infections during the post-operative period, with the risk increasing with longer intervals between diagnosis and definitive treatment, according to a 2023 study from South Korea.

HOW COMMON IS PROSTATE CANCER?

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer, aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, among American men. Overall, about one in eight American men will be diagnosed with it during their lifetime. Most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it.

The risk of developing prostate cancer varies based on age, ethnicity and other factors. About six in 10 prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in men after age 65, according to the American Cancer Society. African American men like Austin are considered at higher risk of developing it, according to experts.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Will Dunham)