Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democrat presidential candidate and former US senator John Edwards, urged women to have regular mammogram screening to detect cancer as early as possible.

Edwards was speaking in Iowa, on the last leg of a presidential campaign trail with her husband. Someone in the audience had asked her if she had undergone regular mammogram screening and she said she had not.

Her breast cancer which was originally treated in 2004 had returned recently in a more aggressive form. She talked about her neglect to go for regular screening as putting herself at the bottom of the list, like many women often do.

As a result of not having the cancer detected early, it was not until she felt it as a lump in her breast that she realized it had probably returned.

She said the tumour was quite large by the time it was found and removed. The cancer has now metastased to other parts of her body, including her bones. She said if she had gone for screening earlier it could have been found before it had a chance to spread.

Edwards said she did what many other women do, gave her attention to whatever she thought was important, and that was not going out to get regular mammograms.

The audience gave her a standing ovation and afterwards in interviews some spoke of how they understood what she meant about how women tend to put their family’s needs before their own.

Elizabeth Edwards remains optimistic. She said she hopes to live for many years, and although the cancer is not curable it is treatable.

She has expressed her intention to remain on the campaign trail and help her husband. She said her neglect of her own health had put not only herself but her family and the nation at risk, because she believed everyone deserved the chance to vote for him.

Earlier in the week Edwards said she had received some good news from doctors. Her cancer could be controlled with anti-estrogen drugs.

Speaking in an interview with the Associated Press she said she was frustrated about people saying she was going to die within five years. Her doctors have not given her a life expectancy figure and even if they did, she would get no comfort from it, she said.

She said it didn’t matter how many years or months or minutes she had left to live, it would not affect the strength of her fight against the illness.

Edwards was told she probably had an aggressive “triple-negative” cancer, but tests revealed she had two of the three hormone receptors: estrogen and progesterone.

She had undergone a course of bone-building and is also taking an aromatase inhibitor Femara. She is not having chemotherapy.

While statistics for survival rate of stage IV breast cancer might put her expectancy at five years, because Edwards’ cancer is a reccurence of an earlier one that was treated at the time, this statistic may not apply. She could have longer, as many as 10 years, some experts are saying.

When presented with 10 years as her bottom line she said she would be 67 by then, but her job would not be finished. She would still have lots of things to do, she said.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation every 12 minutes a woman in the US dies of breast cancer.

Click here for National Breast Cancer Foundation (US).

Click here for more information about Mammograms and Other Breast Imaging Procedures (American Cancer Society).

Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today