7 Celebrities Who Battled Cancer

7 Celebs Who Battled Cancer

Hollywood Walk of Fame
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In addition to entertaining the world both on-screen and off, celebrities serve as a point of reference for us all. For example, you may be fortunate enough to know of no one who has had pancreatic cancer, but you probably know that 1991 "Sexiest Man Alive," Patrick Swayze, succumbed to this disease in late 2009. 

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2015, about 1.7 million people—or a little more than the total population of Philadelphia—were estimated to have been diagnosed with cancer; invariably, some of these people will be celebrities. With this sobering statistic in mind, let's look at seven celebs who battled cancer.

Celebs Who Battled Cancer #1: Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper
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Menacing actor, director, and photographer, Dennis Hopper, floored us with works like Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet. Unfortunately, in 2010, Hopper died of prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer affects the prostate, a male-only gland located in the middle of the pelvis right below the bladder. Right behind skin cancer, prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer in men. In most, this disease is successfully treated, but in some, like Hopper, the disease spreads to the bones and becomes life-threatening.

Celebs Who Battled Cancer #2: Patrick Swayze

Patrick Swayze
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This early 90s superstar captured our hearts in movies like Dirty Dancing, Ghost and Point Break. You may also remember Swayze's comedic turn hosting SNL, where he strutted his stuff alongside Chris Farley as a Chippendales dancer.  

As previously mentioned, Swayze died of pancreatic cancer, a very serious disease which also took the life the apple-of-Silicon-Valley's-eye, Steve Jobs. At diagnosis, up to 90 percent of all people with pancreatic cancer have the inoperable or metastatic disease, and only six percent are alive five years after diagnosis.

Somewhat encouragingly, 24 percent of pancreatic cancers diagnosed at an early stage are treatable. However, surgery for this disease is pretty intense with many of these "lucky" diagnosed having to endure the notorious Whipple procedure. During a Whipple procedure, a surgical team ends up removing both the pancreas and a chunk of the small intestine (duodenum).

Celebs Who Battled Cancer #3: Michael C. Hall

Michael C. Hall
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You may know him as Dexter, the angst-ridden serial killer with a "code." Or, you may remember him for his dead-on performance as a repressed mortician in HBO's Six Feet Under. In 2010, Hall successfully battled back Hodgkin disease (Hodgin lymphoma). 

Hodgkin disease is a type of lymphoma that interferes with white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are immune cells found throughout the body including the lymph nodes, spleen, gut and bone marrow. Thus, this disease can start in lots of places. Usually, however, the first sign of this disease is an enlarged lymph node which, if left untreated, can spread cancer to surrounding lymph nodes and throughout the body via the lymphatic system.

Hodgkin disease is found in both children and adults. Fortunately, as Hall and many others are proof, most cases of Hodgkin disease are cured with radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Celebs Who Battled Cancer #4: Giuliana Rancic

Giuliana Rancic
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Media personality Giuliana Rancic surmounted breast cancer in 2011. In order to do so, this oft-polarizing and recently and once-embattled host of E!'s Fashion Police had to endure a double mastectomy.

Celebs Who Battled Cancer #5: The Marlboro Man

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To be sure, there were many men who played the iconic role of the Marlboro Man in both print and television advertising. This ad campaign was probably more successful than anything Don Draper ever thought up and ran in various iterations for four decades between the 1950s and 1990s. (Hard to imagine that cigarette makers once advertised on television!)

According to a 2014 article in the LA Times, at least four of the Marlboro men died of smoking-related deaths including two deaths from lung cancer. One of these men who died of lung cancer, Wayne McLaren, spent his final years decrying smoking and Big Tobacco.

Celebs Who Battled Cancer #6: Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman
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In the Marvel universe, in addition to sporting adamantium claws, the mutant Wolverine possesses an accelerated healing process which enables him to instantly bounce back from all illness and injury. Unlike the character he plays on the silver screen, however, Hugh Jackman is a mere mortal who has been treated for basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, several times.

Accounting for nearly 25 percent of all new cancer cases, basal cell carcinoma is the most common cancer in the United States. Basal cell carcinoma is caused by overexposure to sunlight (wear your sunscreen!), and, in some, there's also a heritable or genetic component to the disease. (Basal cell carcinoma is associated with PTCH gene mutation.)

Fortunately, this cancer is usually only locally destructive and can be treated with surgery (think surgical excision, Mohs micrographic surgery or electrodissection and curettage).

Celebs Who Battled Cancer #7: Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett
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Charlie's Angel and iconic 1970s pinup model, Farrah Fawcett, lost her three-year battle with anal cancer in 2009.

The vast majority of anal cancers are a (histologic) type called squamous cell carcinoma. Risk factors for anal cancer include smoking, HPV infection (a virus that can cause genital warts) and weakened immunity. Fortunately, if caught early, the prognosis for anal cancer is good with 74 percent of patients in stage I living five or more years. Anal cancer is treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

7 Celebs Who Battled Cancer: Parting Thoughts

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In addition to educating us all by means of their healthcare travails, many celebrities with cancer have inspired us to get screened for such disease, too. 

For example, after Angelina Jolie (a celeb who I didn't cover in this slide show) tested positive for BRCA1—a gene mutation that sharply increases the risk for breast cancer, ovarian cancer and so forth—she went public with her decision to remove her breasts, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

Jolie's decision to inform and inspire us with her story resulted in what researchers have termed the "Angelina Jolie Effect." The Angelina Jolie Effect refers to a 100 percent increase in the number of British women requesting BRCA 1/2 testing in the months ensuing Jolie's announcement.


Carucci JA, Leffell DJ, Pettersen JS. Chapter 115. Basal Cell Carcinoma. In: Goldsmith LA, Katz SI, Gilchrest BA, Paller AS, Leffell DJ, Wolff K. eds. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 8e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2012. Accessed June 05, 2015.

Gareth D et al. The Angelina Jolie effect: how high celebrity profile can have a major impact on the provision of cancer-related services. Breast Cancer Research. 2014.

Smyth E, Cunningham D. Pancreatic Cancer. In: Kasper D, Fauci A, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson J, Loscalzo J. eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2015.


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