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Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, right after cardiovascular disease. It has countless forms and causes, but some people are more prone to developing it than others.

Some risk factors for cancer include: age, family history, certain lifestyle choices, and environmental factors. However, having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will definitely get cancer. In fact, many people who have one or more risk factors never develop cancer.

According to official Worldwide Cancer Data, in 2020, there were 18.1 million cancer cases worldwide. The top five most common types of cancer across both sexes are:

An important thing to keep in mind is that cancer does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what your profession is, or how healthy you are – cancer can affect anyone.

In this article, we will be discussing some of the most famous cancer survivors. These celebrities have used their platform to share their stories and raise awareness about the disease.


Globally speaking, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. As of the beginning of 2022, there were3.8 million women with a history of breast cancer in the United States. About 1 in 8 (13%) women in the US will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Breast cancer, like all other types of cancer, can be non-invasive or invasive. What does this mean? Non-invasive breast cancer means the cancer has not spread outside of the milk ducts or lobules (types of tissue in the breast) where it first began. Invasive breast cancer means the cancer cells have broken out of the primary location and begun to spread elsewhere in the body.

In most cases, breast cancer is caught in its early stages through screening mammograms. A screening mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can help detect breast cancer before symptoms even develop.

Here are five famous breast cancer survivors:

Christina Applegate

Christina Applegate is an American actress and producer who rose to fame as a child actress in her role as Kelly Bundy on the Fox sitcom Married with Children. Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, at the age of 36.

Her cancer was non-invasive, meaning she was eligible for a lumpectomy, a surgery in which only the cancerous tissue is removed, rather than a mastectomy, which involves removing the entire breast.

However, Applegate’s case had another layer of complexity in that her mother was also a breast cancer survivor. Because of this family history of breast cancer, Applegate decided to get tested for specific mutations of the BRCA genes.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce proteins that help repair damaged DNA, meaning they play an important role in preventing cancer. However, when these genes are mutated, they can no longer perform this function properly. This increases the risk of developing breast cancer, as well as other cancers such as ovarian cancer.

Applegate tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, meaning she had a 45-85% chance of developing breastcancer in her lifetime. (In the general population, the average woman has about a 12% chance of developing breast cancer).

After consulting with her doctors, Applegate decided to have a double mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy, meaning both breasts were removed. Since the surgery, Applegate has been cancer-free.

Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow is an American singer-songwriter who has won nine Grammy Awards statues and sold over 50 million albums worldwide. Crow was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, at the age of 44.

Her cancer was discovered during a routine mammogram. It was removed through a lumpectomy, and Crow also underwent seven weeks of radiation therapy.

Since her treatment, Crow has been an advocate for the early detection of breast cancer. She has spoken about the importance of mammograms and urged women to be proactive in their breast health. In 2010, in cooperation with her surgeon Kirsti Funk, Crow launched the Sheryl Crow Imaging Center in Santa Monica, CA, which provides free mammograms to underserved women.

Shannen Doherty

Probably best known for her role as Brenda Walsh on the ’90s television show Beverly Hills, 90210, Shannen Doherty received her breast cancer diagnosis in 2014. She was 44 years old at the time.

Doherty’s cancer was not in its early stages when it was discovered, and she required a mastectomy due to multiple tumors in the breast, as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment because of a suspicion that cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.

From 2017 to 2019, Doherty’s cancer was in remission. However, in early 2020, she announced that her cancer had returned and that it was stage four now, having spread to her spine.

Doherty has been very open about her cancer journey, sharing details and updates with her fans on social media. She stated that she felt good and had a lot of life in her. She continues to provide support for other women with metastatic breast cancer.

Hoda Kotb

Hoda Kotb is an American journalist and television host who currently co-anchors the NBC News morning show Today. Kotb was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, at the age of 42.

Kotb underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to remove the cancer. She has been cancer-free since her treatment.

Kotb has been very open about her experience with breast cancer, sharing her story in order to raise awareness about the importance of early detection. During her recovery process, Today show viewers were able to follow Kotb’s progress and see her journey back to good health. She also shared how her cancer diagnosis gave her the necessary courage to make some major changes in her life, including becoming one of the hosts of Today.

Kylie Minogue

Just like Christina Applegate, Kylie Minogue – a famous Australian singer and actress – was only 36 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.

Her road to diagnosis wasn’t a smooth one. Minogue was initially misdiagnosed when she went to the doctor. But she persisted and eventually saw a specialist who diagnosed her with early-stage breast cancer. She underwent surgery to remove the lump as well as chemotherapy treatment afterward.

Minogue has been cancer-free since her treatment. Thanks to her high-profile status, she was able to use her platform to raise breast cancer awareness. Several research studies documented how Kylie Minogue’s cancer diagnosis led to an increase in the number of women getting mammograms all across the world.


Statistics for breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men are similar. According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 American men will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lives. While the vast majority of men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it, it is still estimated that about 34,500 American men will die from the disease in 2022.

In comparison, testicular cancer is much less common, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 250 for American men. However, testicular cancer is most often diagnosed in younger men, with the average age at diagnosis being 33.

Here are the stories of three famous men who overcame prostate or testicular cancer:

Lance Armstrong

Arguably the most famous case of cancer survival, Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, when he was only 25 years old. Cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, brain, lungs, and abdomen by the time it was discovered. Cancer symptoms that Armstrong experienced ranged from a swollen testicle to headaches to blurred vision to coughing up blood.

Immediately post-diagnosis, Armstrong underwent surgery to remove the cancerous testicle. He then underwent aggressive chemotherapy treatment, followed by more surgery to remove lesions from his brain.

What remains extraordinary in Armstrong’s case is that he had virtually no chance of surviving his cancer – his doctors were later quoted as saying that his odds of survival were “almost zero”. Yet, here he is today, more than 25 years later, alive and well.

Armstrong used his platform and his story to raise awareness about cancer and its early detection. He also founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation, now known as the Livestrong Foundation, which provides support to cancer patients and survivors.

Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller is another well-known actor and comedian who is a prostate cancer survivor. Stiller was diagnosed with the disease in 2014, at the age of 49.

At the time of his diagnosis, Stiller had no symptoms of prostate cancer. He credits the routine PSA test that he got during a physical with saving his life. The PSA test showed that Stiller’s PSA levels were elevated, which led to him getting further testing that resulted in the cancer diagnosis.

PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen. It’s a substance that is produced by the prostate gland and is present in small amounts in the blood of all men. An elevated PSA level can be an indicator of prostate cancer, but it’s not always definitive.

After being diagnosed, Stiller underwent surgery to remove his prostate. He has since been cancer-free and has used his story to raise awareness about the importance of early detection. He has also been an outspoken advocate for the PSA test, urging men to get it done starting at the age of 40.

Ian McKellen

A perhaps unusual cancer case is that of actor Ian McKellen, best known for his iconic roles as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and Magneto in the X-Men movies. McKellen was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006, at the age of 67.

What is unusual is that McKellen opted not to undergo any treatment for his cancer. He decided after consulting with his doctors and learning that, due to his age, the side effects of treatment would likely be more debilitating than cancer itself.

So instead, McKellen chose to monitor his cancer closely. Fortunately, the majority of prostate cancers grow slowly, so McKellen’s case is not as uncommon as one might think.

Despite his cancer diagnosis, McKellen has continued to work and live a full life. His cancer is seemingly giving him no trouble, and he says he feels healthy and happy.


Aside from the three types of cancer – breast, prostate, and testicular – that we highlighted above, there are many other types of cancer that affect both men and women.

Here are stories of celebrity cancer survivors who have battled other types of cancer:

Michael C. Hall – Hodgkin’s lymphoma

The star of the popular TV show Dexter was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, in 2010. He was only 38 at the time, though the average age of diagnosis for Hodgkin’s lymphoma is 39.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a rare cancer, with only about 8,500 new cases diagnosed in the United States yearly. It can be difficult to treat but is often successful if caught early. The survival rate for Hodgkin’s lymphoma is about 87%.

Hall underwent chemotherapy treatment for his cancer and has been in remission since 2010.

Marcia Cross – anal cancer

Marcia Cross, best known for her role as Bree on the TV show Desperate Housewives, was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2017. She kept her diagnosis and treatment private for almost a year before going public in 2018.

Anal cancer is another rare cancer, with only about 9,400 new cases diagnosed in the United States yearly. The five-year survival rate for anal cancer is about 69%.

What Cross discovered on her journey, however, was the considerable amount of shame and embarrassment that many people feel when they are diagnosed with anal cancer. She has since become an advocate for destigmatizing the disease and raising awareness about it.

Fran Drescher – uterine cancer

The actress and comedian Fran Drescher, best known for her role on the hit TV show The Nanny, was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2000, at the age of 43.

Uterine or endometrial cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women (excluding skin cancer), with about 65,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year. Today there are over 600,000 uterine cancer survivors in the United States.

Drescher’s case was another example of misdiagnosis, as she wasn’t properly diagnosed for a whopping two years since the first onset of her symptoms. According to her, eight doctors failed to properly diagnose her before she finally got the correct diagnosis.

Once she was correctly diagnosed, Drescher underwent a radical hysterectomy. She has been cancer-free ever since, without any additional treatment required.

Hugh Jackman – skin cancer

By a wide margin, skin cancers (all types combined) are the most common type of cancer in the United States, with over 5.4 million new cases diagnosed each year.

The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Hugh Jackman, best known for his role as Wolverine in the X-Men movies, was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma in 2013. Since then, he has been diagnosed with several more bouts of skin cancer, each of which he has successfully treated with surgery.

Jackman was born and raised in Australia, one of the countries with the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. He has since become an advocate for sun safety and skin cancer awareness, urging people to be vigilant about protecting their skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

Sofia Vergara – thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is commonly diagnosed at a younger age compared to most other adult cancers. Sofia Vergara, best known for her role on the hit TV show Modern Family, was only 28 when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2000.

Vergara’s case is an example of a very early diagnosis, as her cancer was found during a routine physical exam. She underwent surgery to remove her thyroid gland and has been in remission ever since.

Due to having her thyroid removed, Vergara has to take thyroid hormone replacement medication for the rest of her life. However, this is a relatively small price to pay for being cancer-free.


These are just a few examples of famous people who have been diagnosed with cancer and gone on to lead long and healthy lives. Cancer can be a frightening diagnosis, but it is important to remember that many people survive cancer.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, don’t hesitate to seek support from family, friends, and medical professionals. With early detection and treatment, many types of cancer can be cured or managed effectively. Never lose hope – there are many success stories out there, just like the ones featured in this article.

Music Beats Cancer is dedicated to bringing effective cancer-fighting solutions to the mainstream. Take a look at our active campaigns to see how you can get involved and support new cancer-fighting innovations.

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