Caracas, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced plans to travel to Cuba for cancer treatment. He has spent much of the past 18 months fighting the disease.
In a written request to the legislature, Chavez said doctors have recommended that he “begin special treatment consisting of various sessions of hyperbaric oxygenation” and physical therapy to continue “consolidating the process of strengthening health.”
The request did not provide more details about Chavez’s condition or his treatment. It was quickly approved by allied lawmakers at a special session in Maracay. The request was read on television by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.
The request said Chavez would travel to Cuba as soon as Tuesday, but did not say how long he would remain in the country. It did say that he would be back by January 10, when he will be sworn in for a fourth term.
Venezuelan requires presidents to receive legislative approval before leaving the country for extended periods.
The treatment Chavez will undergo involves breathing pure oxygen while in a sealed, pressurized chamber. The value of the treatment is well-established for treating carbon monoxide poisoning, burns, and certain other medical conditions.
The treatment also aids wound healing and helps repair bone and tissue damage caused by radiation treatments.
The American Cancer Society, however, says there is no evidence the treatment can cure the disease.
Jesus Pena, a Venezuelan internist with a private practice in Caracas, said hyperbaric oxygen treatment is used by doctors in Cuba for the rehabilitation of patients with chronic illnesses. Pena said the period of silence about Chavez’s condition before the announcement raised questions about the reasons for the treatment.
Hugo Chavez underwent his first cancer treatment in Cuba in June 2011, but suffered a relapse this February. He said he has since recovered from the pelvic cancer.
The 58-year-old president has kept many details of his illness secret, and his last public appearance was during a televised meeting on November 15.