CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Elizabeth Edwards faces likely surgery for breast cancer, an illness diagnosed just hours after her husband, Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, conceded defeat Wednesday.

Edwards, 55, found a lump in her right breast while campaigning last week. She saw her personal physician before her husband’s rally last Friday in Raleigh, N.C. The doctor said the lump appeared cancerous and advised her to see a specialist, aides said. She chose to wait until after the election.

After her husband and his running mate, John Kerry, delivered their concession speeches, John and Elizabeth Edwards left Boston’s Faneuil Hall for Massachusetts General Hospital, where a needle biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.

“Elizabeth is as strong a person as I’ve ever known,” John Edwards said in a statement Thursday. “Together, our family will beat this.”

Spokesman David Ginsberg said she was diagnosed with invasive ductal cancer, the most common type of breast cancer. It can spread from the milk ducts to other parts of the breast and beyond.

Charlotte, N.C., oncologist Gary Frenette said surgery for such cancer is a virtual certainty. He said she could undergo a lumpectomy, where only the lump is removed, or a mastectomy. Surgery also would determine whether the disease has spread to her lymph nodes. Possible treatments after surgery include radiation, chemotherapy or hormone treatment.

Frenette said Elizabeth Edwards’ prognosis depends on what the surgeons find. The chance of being cured, he said, “could be anywhere from 95 percent to 10 percent, depending on the size of tumor and number of lymph nodes.”

When John Edwards’ campaign plane touched down in Raleigh last Friday, reporters weren’t allowed to accompany him to what was described as a private stop.

Speculation was that he would be joining his wife at the grave of their late son, Wade. But an aide now said the senator went to their Raleigh home to talk with his wife about her doctor visit.

The couple kept the news private, telling only Kerry and a handful of others.

Even then, Elizabeth Edwards kept up a campaign schedule as frenetic as her husband’s. Sometimes she stumped with her daughter, Cate, a recent Princeton graduate. Over the weekend she campaigned in the battleground states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa. On Election Day she stumped in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, Iowa, before flying to Boston to await the election results.

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