Cardinal George begins experimental cancer treatment

Chicago Cardinal Francis George has entered an experimental cancer treatment program at the University of Chicago, according to an announcement posted on the website of the Chicago archdiocese today.

"The trial is testing a new drug, which may work by activating cells of the immune system enabling them to attack cancer cells," the announcement says. "This approach differs from that of traditional chemotherapy, which uses drugs designed to be toxic to cancer cells. A preliminary trial of this new drug has shown promising results for patients who have the same type of cancer as Cardinal George. The current study seeks to confirm these results in a larger number of patients."

Meanwhile, the cardinal is maintaining his regular schedule, the announcement says.

George, 77, was first diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2006 and underwent treatment. He was clear until 2012, when additional cancer was found and he underwent treatment again. In March, he announced that the cancer had returned again and an aggressive treatment program would be needed.

Because of the size and historical importance of the archdiocese, Chicago is considered a major U.S. see and who Pope Francis chooses to replacement George is being closely watched as a signal of the direction Pope Francis wants the U.S. church to take.

Six of the last seven of George's predecessors have died in office, going back to 1902.

The process of replacing a bishop is highly secretive, which is why an announcement from the archdiocese in May that the Vatican's representative to the U.S. had begun the vetting process for George's replacement was seen as unusual. The archdiocese at the time said the selection process would be completed by late fall.

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