By Jennifere Loven
WASHINGTON — The colon cancer that Tony Snow successfully battled two years ago has returned and spread to the U.S. presidential spokesman's liver, the White House said Tuesday.
President George W. Bush, making a brief statement to reporters, struck an optimistic tone that echoed how aides said Snow was feeling. The president spoke with Snow early Tuesday, and said he looks forward to the day that his spokesman "comes back to the White House and briefs the press corps on the decisions that I'm making."
"His attitude is, one, that he is not going to let this whip him, and he's upbeat. My attitude is that we need to pray for him, and for his family," Bush said. "And so my message to Tony is, 'Stay strong; a lot of people love you and care for you and will pray for you.' "
Snow, 51, had his entire colon removed in 2005 and underwent six months of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with colon cancer. A small growth was discovered last year in his lower right pelvic area and, after months of monitoring, tests showed that it had grown slightly. It was removed Monday.
Doctors determined the growth was cancerous, and also found during the surgery that his cancer had metastasized, or spread, to his liver, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
She said Snow is comfortable and feeling fine after his surgery and has pledged to aggressively fight the disease with an as-yet-to-be-determined chemotherapy treatment course. He will be in the hospital recovering from the surgery, a major procedure, for about a week.
"He said he's going to beat it again," Perino said in an emotional briefing with White House reporters. "When I talked to him, he was in very good spirits."
Blood tests and an imaging scan had come back negative for cancer before the surgery. Snow announced Friday that he had opted to have the growth removed "out an aggressive sense of caution.
As White House spokesman, Snow, a former broadcaster, is the most visible face of the Bush administration, conducting daily televised briefings in which he often spars with reporters trying to probe what is happening at the White House.
Some 153,760 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, and more than 52,000 will die of the disease. In about half of colon cancer patients, the disease eventually will spread to the liver, the most common site of metastasis, according to the National Cancer Institute.
How long they survive depends on how much of the liver is affected, and how many other parts of the body are, too.
In a small proportion of patients, the liver cancer is contained to a small enough area that it can be cut out. If surgery is not an option, doctors may try to limit the cancer's spread through the liver with radiofrequency ablation, using radiofrequency energy to blast the tumors.
Chemotherapy is a mainstay when the cancer has spread to more than one site, with the hope of controlling, even shrinking, tumors to prolong life.
Chemotherapy can turn cancer into something people can live with, said Dr. James Watson, the attending surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "In this day and age, a diagnosis of a recurrence of colon cancer is far from a death sentence," he said.
It was unclear if or when Snow would return to his duties. Perino, the White House's deputy press secretary, is leading the news briefings in his absence, expected to be several weeks even before the discovery that his cancer had come back. She said Snow "was helping me with talking points" Tuesday morning even as he disclosed his condition to her.
Perino, who broke into tears as she broke the news publicly, said Snow also gave her some instructions to pass on to reporters: "Tell them not to bug me." He thanked reporters and others for the outpouring of good wishes he has received.
Snow and his wife, Jill, have three children, aged 10, 11 and 14.
The news came less than a week after Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, announced that her breast cancer has returned in an incurable, but treatable, form. The couple decided that her husband's campaign will go forward nonetheless.