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Mrs. Edwards' Cancer Is Common

Hours after conceding the election, Sen. John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with a common form of breast cancer - invasive ductal carcinoma, reports The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.

It is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all cases.

Breast cancer can arise in different parts of the breast, including the lobules that make the milk and the ducts that transmit the milk.

In the case of Mrs. Edwards, the cancer arose in the cells that line the ducts.

The cells are growing through the duct, which is what is meant by invasive - growing out of the duct into the surrounding breast tissue. When cancer occurs in the ducts, the cells become disorganized and they start to form outside of the duct.

Her treatment options are: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and breast cancer drugs.

Mrs. Edwards' cancer was confirmed using a needle biopsy. In this procedure, a needle is used to remove tissue or fluid from the breast to examine under a microscope. It's a simple procedure that can quickly be performed in a doctor's office.

Mrs. Edwards, who is 55, underwent hormone treatment to get pregnant and gave birth at 48 and 50. She had a daughter and son respectively. There is not any evidence that links fertility treatments to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Women develop a higher risk of developing breast cancer at the age of 40 and the risk gradually increases as they get older. Studies have shown that women who have had a prolonged lifetime exposure to estrogen or have taken hormone replacement therapy have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

The next step for Mrs. Edwards is probably surgery. The most common is an operation to save the breast, which is a lumpectomy. Usually, when a surgeon does a lumpectomy or mastectomy, the lymph nodes will be evaluated to see if the cancer has spread.

The cutoff point for having a lumpectomy versus a mastectomy depends on how large the tumor is in relation to the size of the breast. If a woman with small breasts has a large tumor that is several centimeters, removing it can possibly take away half of her breast. This means that a lumpectomy may not have a good cosmetic result and that a mastectomy may be the better option.

These days, a breast cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence. The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer do very well.

The American Cancer Society estimates that this year 216,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and that one in seven women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.

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