Elizabeth Edwards has Breast Cancer Alert

Medical Authors and Editors: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. and Frederick Hecht, M.D.

November 5, 2004 -- This week has not been a good one for the Edwards family. As if losing the election were not enough, Elizabeth Edwards, 55, also has learned she has invasive breast cancer. Mrs. Edwards' husband John was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate.

Mrs. and Sen. Edwards went directly to the Massachusetts General Hospital from John Kerry's and Mr. Edwards's concession speeches in Boston to see a specialist who confirmed the diagnosis through a needle biopsy. The biopsy disclosed that the cancer was a ductal carcinoma and was "invasive." The tumor is no longer confined within the duct but has broken through the duct wall and begun to invade surrounding breast tissue.

The Past

Mrs. Edwards first noticed a lump in her right breast last week and then saw her doctor in Raleigh, NC. Her doctor suspected that the lump could be cancer and recommended she see a specialist. She decided to see one the day after the election, so as not to interfere with the campaign.

In an interview earlier this year, when her husband was seeking the nomination as President, Mrs. Edwards said that as a First Lady, she would promote issues like breast cancer awareness and pressing insurance companies to pay for more frequent exams.

"I care about preventive medicine, I care very deeply about it," Mrs. Edwards said. "I think if a hypothetical insurance company can say we can only pay for mammograms for women over 50 every three years I would want to use my role to complain to them that this is irresponsible behavior. Women over 50 need an annual mammogram."

The Future

The course of treatment as a rule depends on the size of the breast tumor, its degree of aggressiveness, and whether it has metastasized (spread) to lymph nodes or elsewhere.

A surgeon usually removes the lump (lumpectomy) or the breast (mastectomy). After a lumpectomy, radiation therapy is usually given. If the tumor is larger than a centimeter or has spread to lymph nodes, or is an aggressive type of cancer, the woman usually also has chemotherapy.

We at MedicineNet, of course, cannot really know the future for Elizabeth Edwards but we hope it includes a cure for breast cancer.

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