Aretha Franklin gets No Respect from Cancer-UPDATED

As readers of this site know, cancer does not respect fame or fortune, even for someone who demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T as Aretha does in her familiar, iconic rendition of the 1965 Otis Reading song. We have written far too many stories about the “sad bonanza” of pancreatic cancer among public figures over the past two years and now the Queen of Soul, 68, appears to be its latest victim. Ms. Franklin underwent surgery last week for what was, at the time, an undisclosed condition.

Standard surgery for cancer of the pancreas is the Whipple Procedure. This operation (also called a pancreaticoduodenectomy) is one of the most complex abdominal surgeries performed and it’s important to know how much experience your surgeon and hospital actually has with this operation, according to our BIDMC colleague, Dr. Mark Callery, a distinguished Boston surgeon who specializes in this disease. Dr. Callery provides his patients with his performance “stats” as part of his philosophy that patients should be fully informed participants in their treatment and recovery.

Dr. Callery’s colleague, Dr. Charles Vollmer, points out that “at hospitals which infrequently perform this major operation, the mortality rates within 30 days of surgery can be as high as 15 percent. At Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the mortality rate is below 1.4 percent.”

Another important thing to know is that inherited genetic disorders cause 5-10% of cases of pancreatic cancer and certain genes can increase the lifetime risk up to 80%.

More information:

Update: Pancreatic cancer strikes again

Jazz saxophonist James Moody, 85, died Thursday December 9 in San Diego following a 10-month struggle with cancer of the pancreas. His 1949 song “Moody’s Mood for Love” was recorded by Aretha Franklin among others. See


Ms. Franklin vehemently denies that she has pancreatic cancer- that reports that she has cancer are in error.  She did confirm that she had a major surgical procedure in her abdomen, but what that procedure was and for what condition it was performed remains undisclosed. Franklin told Rolling Stone magazine that she sought medical treatment after experiencing a severe pain in her side that “was so hard it almost brought me to my knees.” Following the successful procedure, Franklin claims to be back and better than ever.

“[My doctor] said, ‘The surgery that you just had is going to add 15 to 20 more years to your life,” she said, adding that she’s slimmed “down to a rockin’ [size] 16-18. It’s getting better every day. I plan on keeping this weight that I have now — I’m so happy with it.”


Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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