Almost everyone knows someone who’s been affected by cancer, but what you might not know is that even some of the world’s most famous people have dealt with the devastating disease. These high-profile figures have been in your favorite TV shows and movies and serenaded you through speakers and headphones. But they haven’t let the disease define them and were able to come out on the other side with a clean bill of health.
While it’s common to say that someone “beat cancer,” it’s more complicated than that. Doctors wouldn’t say someone is completely cured but rather that they’re “in remission” or “cancer-free” with no remaining visible signs of cancer. Since these celebrities have returned to the public eye post-cancer, many fans might not even realize that they overcame this disease.
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“Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts is a two-time cancer survivor. In 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and in 2012, she developed myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of bone marrow cancer. Roberts’ older sister, Sally-Ann, donated bone marrow for her transfusion, and after a successful monthslong recovery, she came back to “GMA” with a clean bill of health. In a 2018 interview with Parade, she said she feels stronger than ever.
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It took two years and eight doctors to correctly diagnose Fran Drescher’s uterine cancer. The New York City native, best known as the star of “The Nanny,” underwent a total hysterectomy in 2000. Seven years later on the anniversary of her operation, she launched Cancer Schmancer, a non-profit dedicated to preventing, detecting and curing the disease.
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Robert De Niro found out he had prostate cancer in 2003, when he was 60 years old. Thanks to a routine screening, doctors detected the sickness before it was able to spread. The Oscar-winning “Goodfellas” actor went into surgery soon after his diagnosis and, in the aftermath, was declared cancer-free.
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Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000 at a routine health screening. The politician, who was 55 at the time, paved the road to recovery with hormonal therapy, radioactive seed implants and external beam radiation. Nearly two decades prior, Giuliani’s father, Harold, passed from an advanced form of the same disease.
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In 2011, Wanda Sykes had cosmetic breast reduction surgery, which led to the discovery of ductal carcinoma in situ, a type of cancer affecting cells lining the milk ducts. Though it’s considered a non-invasive, stage-zero cancer, Sykes opted for a double mastectomy to lower her chances of developing breast cancer in the future.
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In 1999, fashion designer Betsey Johnson had her saline breast implants removed and, shortly after, felt a lump on her chest. When she found out she had breast cancer, she told no one except her daughter Lulu and had a lumpectomy on Christmas Eve followed by months of radiation. Almost a year after her diagnosis, she made a public announcement about her status as a cancer survivor.
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Ben Stiller was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014. The “Zoolander” actor had no symptoms and no known risk, but at the advice of his doctor, he underwent a routine screening, an MRI and a biopsy. Upon discovering the presence of a tumor, Stiller had it removed via robotic-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy. Three months later, he was declared cancer-free.
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Veteran reporter Hoda Kotb found out that she had breast cancer in 2007. After undergoing a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she continued her road to recovery with hormonal therapy. Months later, she began her job as a co-anchor of “The Today Show,” where she shared her story publicly for the first time.
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“Sex and the City” star and activist Cynthia Nixon was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram in 2006 when she was 40. Her mother had the illness twice, so Nixon had been getting routine exams since she was 35. She had a lumpectomy right away followed by radiation and hormone therapy. Now, she’s an ambassador for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the largest breast cancer non-profit in the world.
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Christina Applegate’s breast cancer was detected early by way of an MRI after genetic testing found a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, which makes her more susceptible to the illness. Applegate had a double mastectomy and made a full recovery. The 47-year-old — whose mother is also a breast cancer survivor — would go on to land a role in “Dead to Me” on Netflix, in which she plays a real estate agent who has undergone the same procedure. She also founded Right Action for Women, a foundation for women with an increased risk of breast cancer that don’t have the financial means to cover the cost of screenings.
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Australian actor Hugh Jackman, best known for his role as Wolverine in the “X-Men” series, announced he had a basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, removed from his nose in 2013. The 50-year-old blames himself for not using sunscreen growing up and now gets regular checkups. Since his original diagnosis, he’s had five additional basal cell carcinoma growths removed.
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Actress and activist Jane Fonda was first diagnosed with cancer in 2010 when doctors found a tumor in her breast. The “Grace and Frankie” star had a non-invasive surgery to remove it, and six years later, she had a mastectomy. In 2018, Fonda had a cancerous growth removed from her bottom lip. In an interview with British Vogue, she admitted that she often goes to the skin doctor to have “things cut off me by a surgeon,” but now, her health is in good standing.
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Sharon Osbourne was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2002. The probability of her survival was 33 percent, but she persevered and beat the odds. MTV cameramen documented her illness for Season 2 of “The Osbournes,” and when her hair fell out, she wore custom-made wigs created by Cher’s wigmaker. In 2004, the media personality founded the Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Program at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. In 2012, she had a double mastectomy after discovering that she had a gene that would increase her risk of breast cancer.
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In 2003, Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer. She had surgery right away and underwent nine months of chemotherapy before she was declared cancer-free. In 2012, the Tennessee native was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. Today, she is living with lymphedema, a fairly common chronic illness triggered by lymph nodes damaged by cancer treatment. Symptoms include fluid buildup and swelling in one, or sometimes both, arms and legs.
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Sheryl Crow was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ after an annual mammogram in 2006 when she was 44 years old. She had a lumpectomy and then underwent weeks of radiation. Four years later, the Grammy Award-winning singer opened the Sheryl Crow Imaging Center, which provides breast cancer screenings at the Pink Lotus Breast Center in California.
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Doctors diagnosed Rod Stewart with thyroid cancer in 2000. This threatened his vocal health, and after a successful operation, he had to teach himself to sing again. The rocker had another scare in 2016 when doctors found his prostate was enlarged, but the lump was benign and he recovered without surgery. Stewart is currently a donor and spokesperson for The Oral Cancer Foundation.
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Michael C. Hall, best known for his leading role on the TV show “Dexter,” began treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare form of cancer affecting the lymphatic system, in 2010 when he was 38 years old. In an interview with The New York Times, he revealed that his father also had cancer and passed when he was 39. After months of radiation treatment, the actor was declared cancer-free.
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In 2001, “The Avengers” star Mark Ruffalo dreamt that he had a brain tumor. Sure enough, he went to a doctor and found that he had acoustic neuroma, a benign type of cancer affecting the nerves leading from the inner ear to the brain. Surgeons removed the mass successfully, but Ruffalo lost his balance, had partial paralysis in his face and often felt confused. The actor took a year off to recover before resuming his career. While most of the side effects vanished, he’s deaf in one ear to this day.
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In 2005, when Kylie Minogue was 36 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The Australian pop singer had surgery shortly after, followed by months of chemotherapy. According to Minogue, she was originally misdiagnosed by medical professionals and her claim lead to an influx of people seeking breast exams, mammograms and biopsies that was then referred to as the “Kylie Effect.”
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Sofia Vergara was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2000. The “Modern Family” actress took her son to an endocrinologist to have him checked for diabetes because it runs in her family, and the doctor asked if he could examine her too. After they found a lump in her neck, Vergara’s thyroid was removed. She received iodine therapy and began taking medicine daily to help regulate her metabolism. Cancer can happen to anyone and, depending on your risk factors, you may be prone to certain types more than others. While some things may be out of your control, these are some cancer-causing habits you need to stop immediately.
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