Doctors expressed cautious optimism yesterday after confirming they had removed a fist-sized, cancerous mass from the colon of Orioles right fielder Eric Davis.
The diagnosis verified what doctors had suspected as early as two weeks ago, but surgeons were encouraged by what they found. During an afternoon news conference, a team of three doctors said they believe the entire cancer was removed before it had invaded other organs.
"I see no reason why he could not play baseball again," Orioles team physician Dr. William Goldiner said.
According to Goldiner, Friday's surgery, which removed a third of Davis' colon, exposed a malignancy that easily could have invaded Davis' lymph nodes.
However, yesterday's pathology reports indicated that the nodes were not infiltrated by cancer. Had the lymph nodes been invaded, the possibility of the cancer's spreading would have been markedly greater.
Whether Davis plays again "is less dependent on the surgery and more dependent on how he tolerates chemotherapy. I'd have to take it week by week, month by month," Goldiner said.
Doctors cannot rule out a recurrence.
"[Full recovery] is not 100 percent," said Dr. Keith Lillemoe, professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and chief surgeon during Friday's procedure. "But it's limited to the colon, so he has an excellent prognosis."
In a statement, Davis said: "I am feeling well and looking forward to making a full recovery. I would like to thank my family, all of the fans, my teammates, my friends, the Orioles organization and the staff at Johns Hopkins for all of the support they gave me. I have been following the team very closely, and I am very excited to see that we are doing so well. I hope to be back on the playing field as soon as I can."
Davis will need six to eight weeks to recover fully from surgery alone. Depending on what form of chemotherapy is administered, he may have to endure months more of side effects from medication. Doctors have told team officials it is unlikely Davis will play again this season.
"We were hopeful he could return this season, but I would not say that is probable," said Orioles general manager Pat Gillick.
Doctors said cancer was virtually confirmed when they received test results on June 9. Surgery was immediately scheduled for Friday.
During the procedure, doctors discovered that the mass, which Lillemoe described as "about baseball size," had penetrated the wall of Davis' colon. They removed one-third of the organ, reattached the severed ends and held their breaths over what pathology reports might show.
"I don't want to get into percentages," said Lillemoe. "It's either 100 percent or 0 percent for someone like this. Rather than give estimates, I'd say the odds are in his favor."
Gillick, assistant general manager Kevin Malone and director of public relations John Maroon visited Davis several hours before yesterday's news conference and reported he was in great spirits and no longer tethered to an intravenous drip. Gillick and manager Davey Johnson then notified the team of Davis' condition during a closed-door clubhouse meeting before batting practice.
Before yesterday, Davis' teammates had remained largely unaware of the seriousness of his condition.
"You have to get close to him to know the kind of person he is," said catcher Lenny Webster. "He's a very giving person. always there for you. If you know Eric, you know you can count on him to do whatever it takes to get back."
Davis may leave Johns Hopkins Hospital today, and could return home to Los Angeles within seven to 10 days.
Leaving the team in New York, Davis checked into University of Maryland Medical Center May 27, two days after removing himself from a game in Cleveland because of "excruciating" abdominal pain.
A battery of tests led doctors first to believe that Davis was suffering from an abscess that might be treated with antibiotics and later drained. However, a series of CT scans revealed the mass was not shrinking, and doctors suggested surgery on June 5. Davis balked at the suggestion and sought a second opinion at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The recommendation was the same.
"We were highly suspicious, and at the time of surgery, our suspicions were confirmed," Lillemoe said.
Dr. Meyer Heyman, who treated Davis at University of Maryland Medical Center, said from its size, the cancer had been developing "for months."
Dr. Michael Choti, who heads Hopkins' colon cancer center, said the chances of curing a patient depend entirely on whether cancer has spread beyond the colon.
Surgery cures about 95 percent of patients in whom cancer is confined to the inner lining of the colon, he said. The cure rate ranges between 70 and 80 percent when cancer penetrates through the colon wall but does not spread to the lymph nodes.
The chances decline significantly once cancer spreads to the lymph nodes or, worse, to distant parts of the body.
Choti said he was not familiar with the specifics of Davis' case.