MTV Star Diem Brown Facing Third Cancer Battle

As a contestant on MTV”s Real World/Road Rules Challenge in 2006, Diem Brown thought she had learned all she needed to know about difficult journeys. She and her partner, Derrick, underwent their challenge only one month after having surgery for ovarian cancer. Brown had one ovary, several lymph nodes and part of her fallopian tube removed, but still flew off to Australia to participate in the show, and managed to finish in fourth place in the competition.

In May 2012, Brown received the bad news that her cancer had returned, when tests done because of abdominal pain revealed a large ovarian cyst. The doctor was able to keep 30% of her remaining ovary when the cyst was removed.  Brown made the decision to postpone treatment temporarily so that eggs could be harvested before the remainder was removed as part of her treatment for cancer. She found Dr. Jamie Grifo at NYU who was able to harvest five eggs. Diem, who was only 30 at the time, still hoped she would be able to have children after her cancer was in remission, which she achieved in 2013. She chronicled her cancer journey in a blog for People magazine.

While taping in Europe for a new reality show, about a week ago,  Diem collapsed and was airlifted to NYC, where she underwent emergency surgery. According to her sister Megan:

“Doctors found one tumor blocking her colon completely so they had to do emergency surgery that evening to remove the blockage. They were able to remove the mass, but once they were inside they found out there were multiple tumors.”

Diem had to undergo a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus/womb). A tumor was found in the lining of stomach, and she has a colostomy bag. An infection in her abdomen caused Brown to undergo a second emergency surgery three days later.

The hysterectomy was probably the hardest thing to take. As she told People magazine:

“When I came to, they told me that they couldn’t save my uterus. That was a blow. We’d fought so hard to keep it. Might sound silly to most, but it’s what made me still feel like a woman and gave me hope for a future. I felt empty … gutted.”

But in typical upbeat Diem Brown fashion she still has hope:  “I might not have the ability to ever carry a child and I have this damn bag for the time being – but I’m alive.”

One of Celebrity Diagnosis’s goals is to point out possible misinformation that media outlets may be spreading (see our Steve Jobs story). The Diem Brown story may be another such case. Here are quotes from other websites:

“Diem Brown Diagnosed with Colon Cancer”: People 

“MTV Star Diem Brown Diagnosed With Colon Cancer After Collapsing Overseas”: Wetpaint

“The reality star is now battling cancer for a third time after being diagnosed with colon cancer while filming a new reality show.”: Hollywood Life

“She was recently diagnosed with colon cancer.”: E-Online

Does Diem Brown really have colon cancer? This would be a second type of primary cancer, one which is most common in people over 50.

Although not unheard of for a patient with one kind of cancer to later have another kind, it is probably more likely that Brown actually has a recurrence, and metastasis of her ovarian cancer. The tumor has spread around the abdomen and affected her stomach and colon. Her sister said- “one tumor was blocking her colon. ” She didn’t say that the tumor originated there.

What is metastatic cancer?

Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from the place where it first started to another place in the body. A tumor formed by metastatic cancer cells is called a metastatic tumor or a metastasis. The process by which cancer cells spread to other parts of the body is also called metastasis.

Metastatic cancer has the same name and the same type of cancer cells as the original, or primary, cancer. For example, breast cancer that spreads to the lung and forms a metastatic tumor is metastatic breast cancer, not lung cancer. If Diem Brown has ovarian cancer in her colon, it is still referred to as ovarian cancer!

Under a microscope, metastatic cancer cells generally look the same as cells of the original cancer. Moreover, metastatic cancer cells and cells of the original cancer usually have some molecular features in common, such as the expression of certain proteins or the presence of specific chromosome changes.

Although some types of metastatic cancer can be cured with current treatments, most cannot. Nevertheless, treatments are available for all patients with metastatic cancer. In general, the primary goal of these treatments is to control the growth of the cancer or to relieve symptoms caused by it. In some cases, metastatic cancer treatments may help prolong life. However, most people who die of cancer die of metastatic disease.

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:

  • Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
  • Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.

The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if ovarian epithelial cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually ovarian epithelial cancer cells. The disease is metastatic ovarian epithelial cancer, not lung cancer.

Where does cancer spread?

The most common sites of cancer metastasis are, in alphabetical order, the bone, liver, and lung. Although most cancers have the ability to spread to many different parts of the body, they usually spread to one site more often than others. The following table shows the most common sites of metastasis, excluding the lymph nodes, for several types of cancer:

Cancer type Main sites of metastasis*
Bladder Bone, liver, lung
Breast Bone, brain, liver, lung
Colorectal Liver, lung, peritoneum
Kidney Adrenal gland, bone, brain, liver, lung
Lung Adrenal gland, bone, brain, liver, other lung
Melanoma Bone, brain, liver, lung, skin/muscle
Ovary Liver, lung, peritoneum
Pancreas Liver, lung, peritoneum
Prostate Adrenal gland, bone, liver, lung
Stomach Liver, lung, peritoneum
Thyroid Bone, liver, lung
Uterus Bone, liver, lung, peritoneum, vagina
For ovarian cancer, there are four stages:
In stage I, cancer is found inside a single or both ovaries.  In stage IC, cancer is found in one or both ovaries and may be on the surface of the ovary or there may be cancer cells floating in the fluid that lines the pelvis.
In stage II, cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread into other areas of the pelvis, such as the uterus or fallopian tubes.
In stage III, cancer is found in one or both ovaries and has spread outside the pelvis to other parts of the abdomen and/or nearby lymph nodes.
In Stage IV, cancer has spread beyond the abdomen to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or tissue inside the liver. Cancer cells in the fluid around the lungs is also considered stage IV ovarian cancer.Whether Diem has ovarian or colon cancer, we wish her well. She has a difficult road ahead of her.

 

 

 

 

 

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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