WASHINGTON - New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Thursday that he has prostate cancer, casting doubt on whether he will face first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the nation's most eagerly anticipated Senate race.
"I really need to know what the course of treatment is going to be before I can evaluate," Mr. Giuliani, 55, told reporters at New York City Hall.
That process should take two or three weeks, he said.
Mr. Giuliani spoke briefly by phone with Mrs. Clinton. "Like all New Yorkers, my prayers and best wishes are with the mayor for a full and speedy recovery," she said before giving a speech in upstate New York. "And I hope that everyone joins me in wishing him well."
Mr. Giuliani, stressing he's in the early stages of the disease, plans to continue campaigning in the short term. But his startling announcement could signal an early end to a highly charged race between two vibrant and aggressive personalities with long lists of admirers and enemies.
"We're just in a holding pattern for two weeks," said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the Cook Political Report. "I feel like we're circling La Guardia [Airport] at rush hour."
Mr. Giuliani, whose cancer is common and often curable, said he hopes to stay in the race.
"The choice that I'm going to make about treatment is going to be contingent upon the treatment that gives me the best opportunity to have a full and complete cure," he said. "And then after I determine that, then I will figure out: Does it make sense this year or doesn't it?"
If it doesn't, some analysts are already discussing the possible candidacy of Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y. He almost entered the race earlier this year.
Mr. Lazio avoided any mention of the race in a statement that said in part: "Issues that cut to the core of a person's health and life transcend election campaigns and politics."
Mr. Giuliani said he disclosed his condition because a reporter saw him enter a hospital Wednesday.
"I have told you everything that I know except some of the gory details of the tests," he said.
The mayor, whose father died of prostate cancer, said a blood test from a recent physical showed a high level of a protein called PSA, a potential sign of the disease. A biopsy indicated that the mayor is in an early stage of cancer. "I kind of think of negative as bad and positive as good," Mr. Giuliani said. "So when he [the doctor] told me it was positive, it took me a second to figure out, 'Oh, gee, that's not so good.' "
According to the American Cancer Society, Mr. Giuliani is one of an estimated 180,400 people who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. The society estimated that 31,900 men will die of the disease this year, making it the second-leading cause of cancer death behind lung cancer.
Effect on race
Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac College Polling Institute, said the increasingly common illness will probably have little effect on the race, should Mr. Giuliani continue his run.
"Dramatic impact on him? Maybe," Mr. Carroll said. "Dramatic impact on the race? I don't see it. Prostate cancer is something people are fairly grown up about."
Prominent survivors include New York Yankees baseball manager Joe Torre, retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and the last recent Republican presidential nominee, Bob Dole.
This year's presumptive GOP nominee, George W. Bush, said he spoke by phone with Mr. Giuliani and predicted that he would stay in the race against Mrs. Clinton.
"I'm pleased to report he's as feisty as ever," Mr. Bush said. "He looks forward to becoming the United States senator from the state of New York."
Other Republican conservatives have been less enamored of the New York mayor. Members of the New York Conservative Party have openly encouraged Mr. Lazio to run under their banner, citing Mr. Giuliani's support for abortion rights and gay rights.
During the 1994 governor's race, Mr. Giuliani endorsed incumbent Democrat Mario Cuomo over Republican nominee George Pataki, the eventual winner. Relations between the Republican governor and mayor have been up and down.
Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Lazio, 42, might actually be the better candidate. Others said it would be difficult for him to compete against such a high-profile opponent.
Drop in polls
Mr. Giuliani has had to deal with political setbacks recently, including the loss of a once-handsome lead over Mrs. Clinton in public opinion polls.
Many pollsters attributed the drop to the outspoken mayor's handling of the recent police shooting of an unarmed man during an attempted drug sting.
Saying the police were being treated unfairly, Mr. Giuliani discussed the man's criminal record; critics accused him of attacking a dead man who couldn't defend himself.
Last weekend, Mr. Giuliani referred to the federal agents who seized EliÃ¡n GonzÃ¡lez as "storm troopers," drawing criticism from Mrs. Clinton.
If he winds up running for the Senate, some analysts said the illness could smooth some of Mr. Giuliani's sharper edges.
"It presents him in a more human light, which he needs a little bit now," Ms. Duffy said.
In discussing his prostate cancer with reporters, Mr. Giuliani joked about his image: "Am I going to be a nice guy? No way! No way!"
He added: "My physical health is terrific. It isn't just relatively good. It's terrific - I mean, other than this problem."
Staff writer Rick Klein in Greensboro, N.C., contributed to this story.
"The choice that I'm going to make about treatment is going to be contingent upon the treatment that gives me the best opportunity to have a full and complete cure." - Rudolph Giuliani, New York City mayor
Agence France-Presse: Doug Kanter New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said he doesn't know how his prostate cancer diagnosis will affect his expected bid for the U.S. Senate.