Famous People Who Suffered from Oral, Head and Neck Cancer

Babe Ruth

The great all-American slugger George Herman “Babe” Ruth was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1895. He entered the National Baseball League at the young age of nineteen and grew to become one of its greatest stars by hitting a long-defended 60 home runs in one season.

In 1946, just before retiring from baseball, Ruth was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma refers to a malignant growth that arises from epithelium, which tends to infiltrate and metastasize to other organs. The location of the carcinoma was in the nasopharynx, or the upper part of the throat behind the nose. Doctors tried their best to control Ruth’s cancer with surgery and radiation treatments, but were not successful and so they eventually released him from the hospital in 1947.

Even though his cancer was thought to be a result of his frivolous use of smokeless tobacco, cigars and alcohol, studies have now shown that other risk factors are associated with this particular type of cancer. Among these factors are geographic location, genetic inheritance and certain environmental carcinogens. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is one of the most common malignancies found in Taiwan and southern China, but is rarely found in North America.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant was a man most commonly known for his victorious leadership in the Civil War, which was only comparable to his efforts to help mend a divided Union as the 18th President.

However, many do not know that Ulysses S. Grant was the only U.S. president to die of cancer. He was a popular general who enjoyed smoking cigars. He had begun this chronic habit at an early age, and once admitted to smoking as many as 12 cigars in one day.

This bad habit finally took its toll when Grant was diagnosed with a carcinoma of the right tonsillar pillar in early June 1884. The cancer was at the base of the tongue and was described as a malignant squamous epithelioma, which was a scaly, invasive, metastasizing growth. At the onset of his cancer, surgical and technological movements were not advanced enough to effectively control the carcinoma. Only meager topical applications of cocaine hydrochlorate solution or iodoform powder could be used to help suppress the pain.

Despite devoted care from his personal physician John H. Douglas, who tried desperately to keep Grant alive to finish his memoirs, he suffered a slow and painful illness until his death in 1885. Today, Grant’s carcinoma could be treated in several fashions with the inventions of the aspiration pump, radiotherapy, tracheotomy and surgery.

Sigmund Freud

Psychoanalysis, Oedipus complex and the human psyche are all concepts commonly associated with the Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud. His theories have heavily impacted child rearing, education and sociology by introducing new approaches to these fields.

Freud’s passion for psychology was matched by his passion for cigars and smoking. His unsuccessful attempts to kick the habit led to multiple health disorders, including cancer of the jaw, which was diagnosed at the age of 67. For the last sixteen years of his life, he received constant treatment and extensive operations to attempt to control the malignant ulcer’s growth in the hard palate.

Despite treatment, the cancer metastasized to neighboring tissues including the upper part of the lower jaw, the base of Freud’s orbits, and eventually his cheek. In his second operation, after slitting the lip on the affected side, a very extensive operation transformed the nasal cavity and mouth into one. None of the operations were very successful and Freud’s sufferings were ended in 1939 by a combination of heart failure, cancer of the jaw and a morphine overdose.

© 2017  American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery

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