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Surge Desk

Elizabeth Edwards' Breast Cancer: 5 Questions and Answers

Dec 7, 2010 – 12:30 PM
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(Dec. 7) -- Surrounded by friends and family, Elizabeth Edwards is resting comfortably at her home in North Carolina after learning that her cancer had spread to her liver.

On her Facebook page, Edwards announced that her doctors have discontinued treatment for the disease, and reports have it that her family has gathered at her home in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Doctors say Edwards, 61, may have only weeks to live, CBS News reported. The mother of four had been receiving treatment for breast cancer and was hospitalized over Thanksgiving after experiencing stomach pains, according Betsy Gleick, the executive editor of People magazine. Gleick described Edwards' current condition:
She is at home, she is surrounded by loved ones. Her children are all there. She has good friends there. Her sister is there. And they are sort of hanging out and talking and looking at photos, and that's what we know. She's obviously very sick. She had stomach pains over Thanksgiving, and they found that the cancer had spread to her liver.
Edwards' public battle with cancer and equally public separation from former presidential candidate John Edwards had catapulted her into the spotlight over the past year, and supporters are searching the Web for reports on her condition.

Surge Desk offers five questions and answers about Edwards' battle:

1. When did Edwards' get cancer, and how did it progress?
Edwards showed no outward signs of illness during the 2004 election, when she stood by her husband, John Edwards, while he acted as John Kerry's running mate. But the day after Kerry conceded the election to George W. Bush, John Edwards announced that his wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Edwards began receiving treatment and in November 2006, she announced that her cancer was in remission, declaring "I seem to be cancer free, knock on wood."

On March 22, 2007, with John Edwards' own presidential campaign in full swing, the couple made the announcement that Elizabeth's cancer had returned and spread to her bones. The cancer could not be cured, but she would continue to receive treatment over the next three years.

2. What is metastatic cancer?
Edwards' oncologist, Lisa Carey, told USA Today in 2007 that Edwards had developed late-stage metastatic breast cancer, which means it had spread past her breasts and lymph nodes to other parts of the body. Carey cited a spot on Edwards' rib and "small abnormalities" in the lung area.

"Metastatic breast cancer is considered incurable, but it is also considered treatable and controllable," Carey told USA Today. "We don't know what's going to happen with Mrs. Edwards, but we do know there are very effective therapies."

3. How is cancer treated?
According to the National Cancer Institute, there are five standard treatments for fighting breast cancer:
  • Surgery: Doctors can remove either lumps from the breast (lumpectomy) or parts of the breast itself (mastectomy) to remove the cancer
  • Radiation therapy: This treatment uses X-rays to kill off cancerous cells, which are administered by a machine outside the body or intravenously in a radioactive substance
  • Chemotherapy: Patient takes drugs that aim to kill cancer cells and stop them from dividing
  • Hormone therapy: Some hormones can actually cause certain types of cancer to grow and spread, so patients can receive treatment to block hormones from working or reduce the level of hormones in the body
  • Targeted therapy: Drugs and other substances are administered locally to attack cancer cells without harming healthy ones
4. How many people are diagnosed with and die from breast cancer each year?
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2006, most recent year data is available, the CDC reports that:
  • 191,410 women were diagnosed with breast cancer
  • 40,820 women died from breast cancer
5. What are the survival rates for breast cancer?
The five-year survival rate for patients with Stage 0 breast cancer is 93 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. For patients with Stage IV Cancer, the rate is 15 percent. Edwards was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer in 2007.

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Filed under: Politics, Surge Desk