2016 Top Celebrity Health Stories- Part 2

David Bowie Lost to Liver Cancer

All words used to describe singer/songerwriter/actor David Bowie. But now add another word. Intensely private.

Word came in January that Bowie had died after a secret 18-month battle with cancer:

“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.”

Although the type of cancer Bowie had was not disclosed at the time of his death, his close friend and producer, Tony Visconti, later revealed that Bowie had liver cancer. Bowie was diagnosed 18 months earlier and had undergone chemotherapy, but was told that his condition was terminal. It was with Visconti that Bowie produced his final album, Blackstar. The album was released on his 69th birthday just a few days before his death. It took on a whole new meaning deliberately created and timed as a “parting gift” for his fans. The video for one track, entitled Lazarus, features Bowie confined to a hospital bed with dirty gauze covering his eyes. The song opens with the lyrics: “Look up here, I’m in Heaven!”

Liver cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death in men and the ninth most common cause of cancer death in women. Men are about three times as likely as women to develop liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancers and more than twice as likely as women to die from these cancers.

It is estimated that there were 39230 new cases of liver cancer in the US in 2016, and 27,170 deaths. The 5-year survival rate is only 17.5%.

Almost all cases of liver cancer in the United States occur in people with alcohol-related cirrhosis or who are chronically infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV). Obesity, diabetes, and iron storage disease are other risk factors for liver cancer. Vaccinating for HBV provides long-term protection from HBV infection and has been shown to lower the risk of liver cancer in children, although it is not yet known whether it lowers the risk in adults.

Symptoms of liver cancer include:

  • A hard lump on the right side just below the rib cage.
  • Discomfort in the upper abdomen on the right side.
  • Pain around the right shoulder blade.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
  • Unusual tiredness.
  • Nausea.
  • Loss of appetite.

There is no standard or routine screening test for liver cancer. Standard treatments for liver cancer include surgery, liver transplant, ablation therapy, embolization therapy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Three Celebrities Talked About Their Auto-Immune Diseases

Celebrities are certainly feeling a lot freer to discuss their chronic health conditions. This year, three celebrities talked about the autoimmune diseases that affect their lives.

In September, Selena Gomez, 24, announced that she will be taking some time off to deal with complications of Lupus. Selena was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease in 2011 and went public in  2013  when she was experiencing flare-ups. Specifically, Gomez was suffering from anxiety, panic attacks and depression, all potential side effects of lupus,

Lupus, short for systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), is a disease in which the body attacks itself.  The immune system fails to recognize the difference between the body’s own cells and tissues and ”foreign” substances such as the bacteria and viruses that our immune systems normally protect us against.

Common signs of lupus are:

  • Red rash or color change on the face, often in the shape of a butterfly across the nose and cheeks
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Unexplained fever
  • Chest pain with deep breathing
  • Swollen glands
  • Extreme fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Unusual hair loss (mainly on the scalp)
  • Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Low blood count
  • Depression, trouble thinking, and/or memory problems.

Whether it’s playing Avatar’s Neytiri or Star Trek’s Uhura or  Guardians of the Galaxy’s Gamora, actress Zoe Saldana, 38, is one busy woman. This makes Salsana’s admission in the July 21, 2016, issue of Net-a-Porter’s The EDIT that she has Hashimoto’s Disease even more surprising. Hashimoto’s Disease is an autoimmune thyroid condition which lowers a person’s energy levels.

In Hashimoto’s disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing inflammation and interfering with its ability to produce thyroid hormones. Large numbers of white blood cells called lymphocytes accumulate in the thyroid. Lymphocytes make the antibodies that start the autoimmune process.

Hashimoto’s disease often leads to reduced thyroid function, or hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a disorder that occurs when the thyroid doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone for the body’s needs. Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism—the way the body uses energy—and affect nearly every organ in the body. Without enough thyroid hormone, many of the body’s functions slow down. Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States

Actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler did her first public interview on the Today show this morning to discuss the recent revelation that she has had multiple sclerosis for the past 15 years!

The 34-year old, best known for her role as Meadow Soprano on The Sopranos, told Matt Lauer that it felt good to acknowledge that she had the disease.

Sigler said that she was diagnosed at the age of 20, when she experienced “heaviness” and tingling in her legs. She went through a long period of remission after her first episode with the disease, but the disease again “reared its ugly head” about 10 years ago.

Sigler has been treated with a wide variety of MS drugs, including injections and infusions. For the past six years, she has been on the medication, Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate), which has stabilized her symptoms.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the central nervous system. The fatty substance (myelin) that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system is attacked by a patient’s own immune system damaging them and forming scar tissue (sclerosis).

This can happen in multiple locations in the brain or along the spinal cord, which explains the name multiple sclerosis.

The scar tissue causes nerve impulses traveling anywhere to or from the brain and spinal cord to be disrupted, resulting in a person displaying symptoms.

Since these symptoms are not specific to MS, and may wax and wane over time in any patient, it is often difficult to make the diagnosis.

Most people experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 40.

  • The initial symptom of MS is often blurred or double vision, red-green color distortion, or even blindness in one eye.
  • Most MS patients experience muscle weakness in their extremities and difficulty with coordination and balance.  These symptoms may be severe enough to impair walking or even standing.
  • In the worst cases, MS can produce partial or complete paralysis.
  • Most people with MS also exhibit paresthesias– temporary abnormal sensory feelings such as numbness, prickling, or “pins and needles” sensations.  Some may also experience pain.
  • Speech impediments, tremors, and dizziness are other frequent complaints.
  • Occasionally, people with MS have hearing loss.
  • Approximately half of all people with MS experience cognitive impairments such as difficulties with concentration, attention, memory, and poor judgment, but such symptoms are usually mild and are frequently overlooked.  Depression is another common feature of MS.

“The Greatest” Muhammad Ali Dies from Complications of Parkinson’s Disease

Heavy-weight boxing and civil rights champion Muhammad Ali passed away in June from respiratory complications of the 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. Ali is one of several celebrities, including Michael J. Fox, who have turned their diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease into institutes dedicated to research into the disease. The Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, AZ was opened in December 2009.

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a brain disorder of the nerve cells (neurons) in the brain that control movement called the basal ganglia.

One part of the basal ganglia, called the substantia nigra, produces a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is important because it allows for the smooth movement of muscles in the body.

For unknown reasons, in Parkinson’s Disease these brain cells are damaged and stop producing dopamine.  When the level of dopamine drops below a certain amount, noticeable symptoms of PD begin to occur.

These symptoms include:

  • Tremor (shaking) of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
  • Slowness of movement
  • Rigidity (stiffness) of the arms, legs and trunk
  • Poor balance and coordination

Currently there is no cure for PD. Treatment primarily consists of drugs that either replace or mimic dopamine, which can lessen symptoms. Surgery may be used as a last resort in a selective group of patients.

Eric Clapton Had Trouble Playing His Guitar

In our latest installment of “Ailments of Aging Rock Stars” master guitarist and rock legend Eric Clapton says he struggles to play guitar because of a condition called peripheral neuropathy.

In an interview with Classic Rock magazine, Clapton, 71, says he can still play, but that it is “hard work.”

“I’ve had quite a lot of pain over the last year. It started with lower back pain and turned into what they call peripheral neuropathy, which is where you feel like you have electric shocks going down your leg.

Clapton released his 23rd studio album, I Still Do this past year.

An estimated 20 million people in the United States have some form of peripheral neuropathy, a condition that develops as a result of damage to the peripheral nervous system — the vast communications network that transmits information between the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and every other part of the body. (Neuropathy means nerve disease or damage.)

Symptoms can range from numbness or tingling, to pricking sensations (paresthesia), or muscle weakness. Areas of the body may become abnormally sensitive leading to an exaggeratedly intense or distorted experience of touch (allodynia). In such cases, pain may occur in response to a stimulus that does not normally provoke pain. Severe symptoms may include burning pain (especially at night), muscle wasting, paralysis, or organ or gland dysfunction.

Sarah Silverman Survived a Life-Threatening Infection

In July, actress/comedienne Sarah Silverman took to Facebook to explain why she hadn’t been seen lately.

Seems she almost died from a life-threatening infection called epiglottitis.

Hi. This is me telling everyone in my life at once why I haven’t been around. This will not interest everyone so feel free to disregard.
I was in the ICU all of last week and I am insanely lucky to be alive. Don’t even know why I went to the doctor, it was just a sore throat. But I had a freak case of epiglottitis.

Silverman had to be intubated for several days, and was in the ICU at Cedar Sinai for five days. She had to be heavily drugged for the pain, and restrained with her hands tied down so she wouldn’t tear out the breathing tube.

Epiglottitis is inflammation and swelling of the epiglottis. In most cases, it’s caused by infection.

The epiglottis is a flap of elastic cartilage that sits beneath the tongue at the back of the throat.  It stands open during breathing, allowing air into the larynx. During swallowing, it closes to prevent aspiration, forcing the swallowed liquids or food to go down the esophagus instead. It is thus the valve that diverts passage to either the trachea or the esophagus.

Swelling of the epiglottis is usually caused by the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae (H. influenzae). It may also be due to other bacteria, such as Streptococcus or viruses that can cause upper respiratory infections.

Epiglottitis has become very uncommon since the introduction of  the H. influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine as a routine childhood immunization. The disease was once most often seen in children ages 2 through 6. In rare cases, epiglottitis can occur in adults.

The symptoms of epiglottitis usually develop quickly and get rapidly worse, although they can develop over a few days in older children and adults. Symptoms include:

  • a severe sore throat
  • difficulty and pain when swallowing
  • difficulty breathing, which may improve when leaning forwards
  • breathing that sounds abnormal and high-pitched (stridor)
  • a high temperature (fever) of 100.4ºF (38C º) or above
  • irritability and restlessness
  • muffled or hoarse voice
  • drooling

The Celebrity Year in Cancer

In Treatment

Noah Buble Son of Singer Michael Buble Hepatoblastoma
Scott Hamilton Olympic Skater Craniopharyngioma
Shannon Doherty Actress 90210 Breast Cancer

Quincy Jones

American Idol Alum

Stand-Up Comedian

Thyroid Cancer


In Remission

Amber Marchese Reality Star: RHONJ Breast Cancer
Ken Watanabe Actor Stomach Cancer
Leah Still Daughter of NFL Devon Still Neuroblastoma
Ben Stiller Actor Prostate Cancer

In Memorium:

René Angélil Music producer, Spouse of Celine Dion Throat Cancer
Alan Rickman Actor Harry Potter, Die Hard, Love Actually Undisclosed (possibly pancreatic)
Sharon Jones Soul and Funk Singer Liver/Bile Duct
Gwen Ifill PBS News Co-Anchor Uterine
Robert Vaughn Actor   The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Leukemia
Joey Feek Country Singer Cervical Cancer
Pat Conroy Author, The Prince of Tides Pancreatic Cancer
Dan Haggarty Actor, Grizzly Adams Spinal Cancer
Robert Ford Former Mayor of Toronto Pleomorphic Liposarcoma
Jon Polito Actor Multiple Myeloma
Holly Dunn Country Singer Ovarian Cancer
Craig Sager Sports broadcaster Leukemia
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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