PARIS: French President Francois Hollande revealed Wednesday he had surgery in 2011 for an enlarged prostate, reviving memories of how some of his predecessors hid serious medical problems from voters.
Hollande's office stressed that the enlargement had been benign and had had no lasting impact on the 59-year-old Socialist leader's health.
It said in a statement that "no medical follow-up was deemed necessary after the operation," which took place the year before he was voted in as president and before he was selected as the Socialist Party candidate.
But the revelation nevertheless topped news bulletins in France, where the president's health is a sensitive issue as a result of former leaders having covered up serious conditions for years.
Francois Mitterrand, France's president from 1981 to 1995, knew he had prostate cancer from the beginning of his first term but kept it a secret until he was hospitalised in 1992.
Mitterrand, who had also hidden the existence of a secret daughter, Mazarine, from the French people, died in 1996.
Another French president, Georges Pompidou, died in office in 1974 having hidden the fact he was suffering from a form of blood cancer.
Jacques Chirac -- who succeeded Mitterrand -- suffered a minor stroke in 2005, three years after he was re-elected as president, but that was made public shortly afterwards.
Hollande's revelation also turned the spotlight on an often misunderstood condition which affects millions of men.
Prostate enlargement affects around one third of men over 50 and is not usually a serious threat to health.
Many believe that having an enlarged prostate means having an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. But, according to medical experts, that is not the case.
"Having an enlarged prostate does not increase or reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer," said French urology professor Aurelien Descazeaud.
"When people have surgery for an enlargement, the surgeon takes the opportunity to check for any sign of cancer at the same time but the two conditions have strictly nothing to do with each other."
The prostate, a small gland found only in men, is located between the penis and bladder.
The cause of enlargement is unknown but most experts believe it is linked to changes in hormone levels that occur as men get older.
The symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate are similar to some of those linked to prostate cancer. These can include general discomfort and urinating frequently or with difficulty.
These symptoms can be relieved through medication or, as in Hollande's case, with surgery under either a local or general anaesthetic.
Prostate surgery usually involves cutting away parts of the enlarged gland with a tiny instrument called a resectoscope which is inserted through the urethra.
It generally lasts about 30 minutes, and patients are hospitalised for 2-4 days on average as a precaution.
Hollande's office said two positive health checks had been made available to the public since he came to power last year, in June 2012 and March 2013, and a number of politicians questioned whether there was any public interest in the publication of details of his health history.
"The number of French men who are faced with prostate problems from around 50.... It's quite commonplace," Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told RTL radio.
"Shouldn't we respect this? Do we always have to put people's private lives on display?"
Bernard Debre, a lawmaker from the opposition UMP party who is also head of the urology department at Cochin hospital, played down the procedure.
"It was nothing. It's as if we were saying: you know, Francois Hollande was operated for appendicitis when he was seven. So what?" he said.