WASHINGTON (AP) — The Cuban government says a test shows an American imprisoned in Cuba doesn't have cancer, countering a previous statement by a U.S. doctor that a mass on the man's shoulder should be assumed cancerous unless proven harmless.
Cuban and U.S. officials met Monday to discuss Alan Gross' health, Cuban officials said in a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Officials discussed an Oct. 24 biopsy that confirmed that a lump on Gross' right shoulder is not cancerous. The one-page statement from Cuba's Ministry for Foreign Affairs said the test "could not be performed before due to Mr. Gross' refusal" and that Gross' wife was given the test results during a meeting Monday in Washington, where she lives.
Gross' case has become a source of tension in U.S.-Cuba relations. Both sides have spent months going back and forth with statements about the growth on his shoulder. His lawyer and family want Gross to be examined by a doctor of their choosing. The Cuban government has said his health is fine.
The Cuban medical team treating Gross said "the general health condition of Mr. Gross is normal," though he is being treated for "chronic illnesses that are typical of his age."
Gross, 63, was arrested in Cuba in late 2009 while on a USAID-funded democracy-building program and sentenced to 15 years for crimes against the state. He says he was only trying to help the island's small Jewish community gain Internet access.
On Wednesday, one of Gross' U.S. lawyers, Jared Genser, questioned the results of the biopsy and repeated requests that Gross be allowed to choose a doctor to examine him. Genser said in a statement that the biopsy removed fluid, but it wasn't clear that it removed tissue, a recommendation of doctors. Genser also questioned the public release of medical records without Gross' consent.
"We urge the Cuban government to allow this to happen promptly so we can put questions about Mr. Gross's health to rest," Genser said in a statement.
A New York rabbi who saw Gross on Tuesday also said the growth was not cancerous. Rabbi Elie Abadie told The Associated Press in an interview that he had examined Gross and received a lengthy briefing from the team of Cuban physicians who have attended him.
Genser said the value of Abadie's assessment is limited because he is a gastroenterologist. But, he added, if the Cuban government is now allowing American doctors to examine Gross they will have an oncologist apply for a visa to see him.
A U.S. doctor who previously reviewed tests performed on Gross in Cuba and said they were inadequate said in a letter released to reporters that the results of the biopsy were "hopeful but not definitive." Dr. Alan A. Cohen, a radiologist, repeated his suggestion of having an MRI and suggested a biopsy using a larger needle.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday the department has continued to express concerns about his deteriorating health. Nuland noted he has lost more than 100 pounds since he was arrested.
"He's got severe degenerative arthritis which affects his mobility, and he has other health problems that require treatment and that cause him quite a bit of pain," Nuland said. "He has not been allowed to see a doctor of his own choosing, let alone be released on humanitarian grounds, which is what we've been calling for, for a very long time now."
Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.