Was Donna Summers Another Victim of the Terrorist Attack on 9/11?

Did terrorists kill the Disco Queen Donna Summers?

As you probably already know, Donna Summers died yesterday from lung cancer Summers told friends she blamed her cancer on inhaling toxic air produced by the 9/11 attacks.

According to a statement released by her family, Ms. Summer’s cancer “was not related to smoking”…”but any details regarding the diagnosis and subsequent treatment of Ms. Summer’s case remain between her family and team of doctors.”

9/11-related tumors are often attributed to asbestos.

Although asbestos can increase the risk of lung cancer, the most common cancer caused by asbestos exposure is cancer of the mesothelium (mesothelioma). The mesothelium is a two-sided tissue that separates the lung from the chest wall and provides a lubricated surface that allows the lung and chest to easily slide against each other during breathing movements.

A number of public figures have died from mesothelioma, they include:

Mesothelioma can occur outside of the chest — like the lungs, your abdominal organs are also surrounded by a lubricating membrane called the peritoneum and Sex Pistol manager Malcolm McLaren died from peritoneal mesothelioma.

Unless Donna Summer had mesothelioma, it’s fairly unlikely that events of 9/11 caused her cancer and untimely death.

What is known about the health affects of 9/11?

For the past 10 years, local and federal agencies, as well as environmental researchers have been assessing the potential health dangers associated with 9/11. The New York City Health Department runs a 9/11 Health Registry to follow those who were in the area on September 11th. This includes first responders,Tower survivors, as well as residential, commercial and building occupants.

According to the US Dept. of Health and Human Services:

Ten years after the terrorist attacks, cancer is still not on the government’s official list of ills caused by exposure to the Twin Towers debris. Experts note that a decade is too short a time period to link a disease like cancer — which can have many causes, both genetic and environmental — to such a specific source as 9/11 toxins.

Findings from the World Trade Center Health Registry, maintained by the New York City Health Department, shows that there are increased lung, gastrointestinal and psychological problems:

  •  10 percent of adult enrollees in the registry reported they had developed asthma, with most diagnosed in the first 16 months after 9/11. The rate of new asthma was highest (12 percent) among rescue and recovery workers who worked on the “debris pile” on 9/11.
  •  19 percent of adult enrollees reported post-traumatic stress symptoms — about four times the rate typically seen among U.S. adults.
  • Six to seven years after the attacks, four times as many firefighters and twice as many emergency medical service workers had below-normal lung function for their ages as they did before 9/11.
  • Several studies have shown that WTC exposure is associated with sarcoidosis (an inflammation that can affect any organ, but typically affects the lungs) among rescue, recovery and clean-up workers, especially those who worked on the debris pile.
  • Many WTC-exposed adults were also diagnosed with or reported having heartburn, acid reflux or other gastroesophageal reflux symptoms, often but not always in conjunction with other respiratory or mental health symptoms.

Obviously, more studies are needed and surveillance for health problems continues for those enrolled in the Health Registry.

In the meantime, we can at least enjoy uplifting music of Donna Summer:

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.


  1. matt

    May 18, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Actually, asbestos exposure does increase your risk of lung cancer as well as mesothelioma. People exposed to asbestos have something like a 5 times risk of developing lung cancer as compared to the non-exposed. If they also smoke, their risk of lung cancer is closer to 50 times a normal person.

    However, the likelihood of her cancer being related to asbestos as opposed to smoke is minimal.

  2. David

    May 20, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    My impression of what happened to DS is guided by the family/publicist excluded from the statement. Saying simply that she had lung cancer and that she believed her sickness was caused by the 9/11 attacks (meaning asbestos) and claiming that she was a never smoker (evidence from Youtube suggests this is a lie) seems desgined to create the impression that she had mesothelioma. If she really did have mesothelioma (which is not lung cancer) they’d have said so, specific ly. I’m guessing it was NSCLC, caused by smoking.

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