The spread of Elizabeth Edwards cancer may provoke the public to many reactions: sympathy, empathy, worry. Surely, we all hope that this unfortunate event won't be grounds for either political gain or loss. Surely, we all hope that any public discussion of cancer spread will be grounds for more cancer awareness and prevention and treatment advances.
It was just last week that I wrote an oped in the WSJ about the importance of diagnosing lung cancer before it escapes the lung. I pointed out the need for effective use of technologically advanced CT scanning for this to happen.
I mentioned breast cancer as an example of another cancer where early detection was important for reduced morbidity and lifestyle advantage, if not survival.
Of course breast cancer is generally not as aggressive and is somewhat more responsive to chemotherapy.
But what Mrs. Edwards case points out is just how treacherous the disease is, and just how expensive and emotionally costly treatments for advanced cancer are.
Metastases to the bone, as Mrs. Edwards has sustained, tend to be somewhat amenable to chemotherapy, so that if not a cure, at least this patient can hope for a long term remission and an effective and happy life.
I do not know the details of Edwards' case, or how it was diagnosed. As we all hope for the best outcome for this public figure, I can't help but hope that many other women have their cancer caught as early as possible, whether by mammogram, or breast exam, or by whatever MRI technology becomes more accessible and useful for breast screening. While we hope for the longest life possible for Mrs. Edwards and those like her who suffer from metastatic cancer, we also hope that expensive treatments for metastatic disease can be avoided as frequently as possible as the result of advances in techniques of early detection.
Marc Siegel MD
Dr. Siegel is a prolific writer, an Associate Professor of Medicine and a Fellow in the Master Scholars Society at New York University School of Medicine, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a frequent contributor to the Washington Post and Family Circle. He is a member of the board of contributors at USA Today. He appears frequently on CNN, the Fox News Channel, and the NBC Today Show.
Dr. Siegel's "False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear" has been named one of the "Top Science Books of the Year"