WWE’s Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka Loses Stomach Cancer Battle

WWE Hall of Famer, Jimmy Snuka, has died of stomach cancer. He was 73.

Snuka, born James Wiley Reiher, a native of Fiji, began his wrestling career in the 1970’s. He went on to be one of the biggest names in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). He is probably best known for his “aerial” maneuver called the “Superfly Splash,” where he leaps onto his opponent from the top of the ropes.

Snuka was diagnosed in July 2015, and had surgery to remove his lymph nodes, part of his stomach and all visible cancer.

Shortly after his diagnosis, Snuka was charged with 3rd degree murder, in connection to the 1983 death of his then-girlfriend Nancy Argentino. His attorney told the court that Snuka was unfit for trial, not only because of his cancer, but because he also suffered from dementia. This was believed to be a result of years of wrestling injuries. The charges again Snuka were dropped about two weeks ago, after the judge determined that Snuka did suffer from terminal cancer and dementia and was expected to die shortly.

What is stomach (gastric) cancer?

The stomach is a J-shaped organ in the upper abdomen. It is part of the digestive system, which processes nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water) in foods that are eaten and helps pass waste material out of the body. Food moves from the throat to the stomach through a hollow, muscular tube called the esophagus. After leaving the stomach, partly-digested food passes into the small intestine and then into the large intestine.

The wall of the stomach is made up of 3 layers of tissue: the mucosal (innermost) layer, the muscularis (middle) layer, and the serosal (outermost) layer. Gastric cancer begins in the cells lining the mucosal layer and spreads through the outer layers as it grows.

Stomach cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the world. It is estimated that in 2016 there will be 26370 new cases of stomach cancer in the United States. Since 2005, the number of new cases of stomach cancer in the U. S. has stayed about the same. Men are twice as likely as women to be diagnosed with stomach cancer.

https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/stomach.html

A surprising connection between stomach cancer and breast cancer

About 15-20% of breast cancers are caused by genetic “amplification” of a gene called HER2 that is expressed on the surface of cancer cells.  HER2 is part of a family of protein “growth factors” that, when unregulated, lead to abnormal growth, invasion and metastasis, in other words, cancer.  Surprisingly, about 20% of stomach cancers are also “HER2 positive.”

HER2 is one of many “drug targets” that have been discovered over the past two decades.  Very specific drugs that block HER2 have been developed and are used to tailor (personalize) treatment based on unique characteristics of a patient’s tumor.  These treatments tend to have many fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.

One type of targeted drug (trastuzumab or HERCEPTIN®) is an antibody that has been manufactured to recognize and attack the HER2 protein and kill cancer cells.  The picture shows HER2 in red and trastuzumab in purple and blue (illustration courtesy of Precision Medicine Network).

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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