WASHINGTON—Medical experts said Tuesday that White House Press Secretary Tony Snow's recurrence of cancer isn't necessarily a death sentence and he may be able to manage living with it indefinitely.
Chemotherapy and proper medication can make living with the disease manageable.
"It's certainly not `quit your job, get the affairs in order and say goodbye to the relatives in the next six months,'" said Dr. Elliot Newman, chief of gastrointestinal cancer surgery at the New York University Cancer Institute and School of Medicine. "If he gets the right kind of chemotherapy, he could have a good quality of life and work again, and, hopefully, keep it in check."
The White House announced Tuesday that Snow's cancer had returned and spread to his liver. Snow, 51, had a cancerous growth removed from his lower abdomen on Monday, when doctors discovered that it was malignant and had spread.
Snow had his colon removed two years ago after it was found to be cancerous, and he endured six months of chemotherapy.
He informed President Bush of his condition by telephone early Tuesday from his hospital bed.
"He said he's going to be going after it as aggressively as he can," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters, sobbing. "It's very hard for us at the White House. We know that you love him, too, but it was hard news for us."
Through Perino, Snow said he would decline to share details about his course of treatment until he has more information.
"His attitude is, one, that he is not going to let this whip him, and he's upbeat," Bush told reporters in the White House Rose Garden. "My attitude is, is that we need to pray for him and for his family."
About 15,760 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year and 52,000 will die from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. In about half of colon cancer patients, the disease will spread to the liver.
Perino informed reporters about Snow's cancer during the routine early morning off-camera press briefing. Usually it's contentious, but Tuesday's session was somber as Perino struggled with her composure and reporters respectfully asked questions about Snow's condition.
Helen Thomas, a Hearst Newspapers columnist and dean of the White House press corps who frequently spars with Snow, told Perino: "Tell him we hope he'll stay on the job."
Bush said he's looking forward to the day Snow returns as his spokesman. Perino said she believes it's Snow's intention to return, but added that she didn't know when.
Snow and his wife, Jill, have three children, ages 10, 11 and 14.
The White House hired Snow last April from Fox News, where he was a commentator. He gave the White House a more telegenic, confident and authoritative public face than Bush's previous spokesmen, Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan. Both often clung to canned talking points when questions got tough.
Snow was more nimble on his feet. He eagerly engaged, often questioning a reporter's line of questioning, delivering editorial insights and using wit to deflect questions or break the tension during a particularly testy session with reporters.
Stephen Hess, a scholar of government-press relations at Washington's Brookings Institution, said Snow was on course to become a groundbreaking White House press secretary.
"He's a much more pro-active press secretary because of his background on Fox News," Hess said. "He's much more a political player in this role. I think he was going to be a very special sort of secretary."
In his relatively short time on the job, Snow expanded the role's boundaries, becoming the first press secretary to headline Republican Party fundraisers.
The return of Snow's cancer comes less than a week after Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, announced that her cancer has returned and spread to her bones and is incurable, but treatable. She discovered she had breast cancer in 2004.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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