Elizabeth Edwards: Incurable But Treatable Cancer

Elizabeth Edwards, along with husband and presidential candidate John Edwards, held a press conference Thursday to announce that she has incurable breast cancer in the bone.

Elizabeth, 57, has metastatic cancer — meaning that the stage four breast cancer has spread from another region of the body to the bone.

Elizabeth first announced she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of her husband’s 2004 presidential race as running mate to Sen. John Kerry.

In the press conference today, she said she is optimistic in the face of this incurable cancer. But while this cancer may be incurable, it is treatable.

This diagnosis of metastatic cancer changes the prognosis for any cancer survivor.

With stage four breast cancer, basically the life expectancy for five-year survival, averages around 20 percent. Even though these are gross statistics, cancer can manifest very differently in individuals.

However there are a significant amount of medications that can be utilized.

Most treatments used for this type of bone cancer involve estrogen-blocking drugs, Tamoxifen being one of them. The treatment for metastatic bone cancer is generally dictated by from where the cancer has spread.

Since Elizabeth had breast cancer, she will most likely be treated with drugs to treat any further spread. A person with lung cancer who then has metastasis bone cancer may be treated with different medications.

However, one of the secondary side effects of estrogen-blocking drugs is weakened bones. There are also a variety of medications called bisphosphonates, such as Fosomax, to help to keep the bones strong, however they do have their side effects as well.

Patients with these types of metastases need to have frequent doctor visits, undergoing bone scans to identify any new lesions, or any significant changes in the bone structure that could lead to fractures. Depending on how responsive the cancer is to these anti-estrogen drugs, the whole monitor can change.

Elizabeth says she plans for her life to continue as usual, as her husband continues his race for the White House in 2008. In the immediate future, life should continue as usual, and most of these patients are encouraged to continue a very healthy lifestyle of balanced diet and exercise to stay strong as they battle this cancer.