- Fawcett’s cancer battle brings attention to rare illness
- Study Reveals 11 Million Men Are Infected With Cancer-Linked HPV and Don’t Know It
- What is anal cancer?
- The four vaccines your teens should get before school starts
- What are the risk factors for anal cancer?
- What are the symptoms?
- How is the cancer diagnosed?
- Woman’s viral challenge raises money for metastatic breast cancer research
- What is the treatment?
- What is the outlook for patients?
- What Really Killed Farrah Fawcett?
- ‘Why my cancer – that killed Farrah Fawcett – is still the last taboo’
- How Farrah Fawcett Fought to Raise Awareness About Anal Cancer: ‘She Wanted To Make a Difference’
- Farrah Fawcett’s Death Sheds Light on Anal Cancer
- Farrah Fawcett’s Life in the Limelight
Fawcett’s cancer battle brings attention to rare illness
By Madison Park
This story was first published on April 9, 2009. Farrah Fawcett lost her battle with anal cancer June 25, 2009.
(CNN) — The news that one of America’s TV icons is suffering from cancer brought sadness. Learning the type of cancer she had made some squeamish.
Farrah Fawcett, shown here in 2004, learned she had cancer in 2006.
Former “Charlie’s Angels” actress Farrah Fawcett, 62, was hospitalized this week. She received a diagnosis of anal cancer in 2006.
This type of cancer is less common than rectal and colon cancer, and the location of the tumor and risk factors make people squeamish about discussing it openly, doctors said.
Colon cancer at one time also was not openly talked about, because of the body part and functions affected, but with the public awareness campaigns and celebrities advocating for screenings, it has been largely destigmatized. Anal cancer is less familiar.
Fawcett has not publicly confirmed the specifics of her illness, but is working on a documentary, titled “A Wing and a Prayer,” about her health battle.
Anal cancer affects more women and the illness is usually found in people who are in their early 60’s. The American Cancer Society estimates that 5,000 new cases of anal cancer are diagnosed each year and about 680 people die from it annually. Meanwhile, colorectal cancer has 148,000 new cases and about 50,000 deaths each year.
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The numbers of anal cancer cases are rising, although experts haven’t been able to pinpoint why.
Cultural squeamishness about certain body areas could prevent early diagnosis and treatment of anal cancer, said Dr. Petr F. Hausner, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
“Patients in the United States hate to be examined in these areas,” said Hausner, who trained in Czechoslovakia. “They like to keep their private parts more private than in Europe. In the U.S., the patients hate those exams and physicians hate to do them. The examination is incomplete.”
The cultural discomfort might be a minor factor, though.
“The bigger role is the virus,” he said referring to the human papilloma virus, a key risk factor for anal cancer that also can cause cervical cancer. Getting vaccinated against HPV is a step in prevention, Hausner said.
More than half of anal cancer patients experience bleeding as a symptom. Others have no symptoms or report common conditions, such as hemorrhoids, fissures, or warts. Symptoms also include itching or pain in that area, changes in the diameter of stool, abnormal discharge, swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin areas, according to the American Cancer Society.
“The most common thing is people think it’s a hemorrhoid,” said Dr. Cathy Eng, associate professor in the department of gastrointestinal medical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Patients should consult with their physicians, she said.
Anal pap smears are routine only for HIV-positive patients, who are at higher risk for this cancer. There are no anal cancer screening recommendations for non-HIV individuals, because it remains a rare disease, Hausner said.
People whose immune system are suppressed, from HIV or drugs taken after organ transplants are at risk for anal cancer. Other risk factors include a sexual history with many partners, a medical history of human papilloma virus (HPV), sexually transmitted diseases or gynecological cancers.
People tend to view anal cancer negatively, because they associate the cancer with a few of its risk factors — such as sexually transmitted diseases or anal sex, Eng said.
- MayoClinic.com: Anal cancer
“It’s one of the risk factors, not the only risk factor,” Eng said. “It’s fair to say people are stigmatized, she said, primarily because of the disease’s association with that type of sex.
When anal cancer is caught early, chemotherapy and radiation are highly effective. But if the cancer doesn’t respond to treatment and spreads to other areas of the body, the five-year survival rate plummets to 20 percent, Eng said.
“Anal cancer is unique,” she said. “The majority of time you can cure the patient, but if you have recurrent or residual disease, you could end up losing your sphincter.”
The sphincter are muscles that holds in urine and feces. If the sphincter is removed, the patient must have a special bag, called an ostomy pouch, that collects the waste.
Anal cancer is “much rarer than colon cancer,” Hausner said. “For 50 colon cancer patients, we see one anal cancer… It’s a rare disease. It is becoming a little bit more frequent. I would say that people are not aware.”
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No one talked much about anal cancer until Farrah Fawcett made it her mission to break the silence.
This week marks a decade since the star’s death at the age of 62 after being diagnosed with the disease in 2006. After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, she was declared cancer-free the following year. But three months later, tests showed the cancer had returned and spread to her liver.
She died on June 25, 2009.
Soon after her diagnosis, Fawcett decided to film her medical journey, with the footage turned into a candid documentary, titled “Farrah’s Story.”
“She hated hearing her name and anal cancer in the same sentence, but it was important for the stigma to be broken. She wanted to raise awareness from the very beginning,” her oncologist Dr. Laurence Piro told People.
“She wanted everyone to see, so that people would be motivated to put money towards research, to get the word out about early detection and prevention.”
Study Reveals 11 Million Men Are Infected With Cancer-Linked HPV and Don’t Know It
Oct. 18, 201701:46
“She said, ‘I always thought I might get breast cancer or heart disease but never this’ and she started to cry,” Jaclyn Smith, Fawcett’s co-star in “Charlie’s Angels,” told the magazine.
Fawcett started the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, which supports research to find a cure for anal cancer, provides support to patients, and promotes cancer awareness and prevention.
More recently, actress Marcia Cross has also been outspoken about battling the same kind of cancer and urged others to be more open about their symptoms and diagnosis.
“I know there are people who are ashamed. You have cancer!” she told CBS News this month. “Like you did something bad… because it took up residence in your anus? I mean, come on, really.”
Trending stories,celebrity news and all the best of TODAY.
After undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, Cross is feeling back to normal, she said.
What is anal cancer?
It develops when malignant cells form in the tissues of the anus.
About 6,530 people are diagnosed with anal cancer each year, with 91% of the cases believed to be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
HPV is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., but it’s important to remember the vast majority of people who have it do not get anal cancer, the American Cancer Society said. HPV also causes almost all cervical cancers and many cancers of the vagina, vulva and penis.
An HPV vaccine is available to protect against harmful strains of the virus and it’s the only vaccine that actually prevents cancer. The earlier you get it, the more effective it is, said Dr. Alanna Levine, a pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She recommended it for both boys and girls. “It’s made an incredible difference,” she said.
The four vaccines your teens should get before school starts
Aug. 7, 201703:24
What are the risk factors for anal cancer?
Besides being infected with HPV, the National Cancer Institute says they include:
- Having many sexual partners
- Having anal sex
- Being over 50
- Experiencing frequent anal redness, swelling, and soreness
- Having anal fistulas (abnormal openings)
What are the symptoms?
They can be uncomfortable to talk about with a doctor, but early detection is key:
- Bleeding from the anus or rectum, which is often the first sign of the disease
- Pain or pressure in the area around the anus
- Itching or discharge
- A lump near the anus
- A change in bowel movements, like narrowing of stools
How is the cancer diagnosed?
It’s often found when a doctor performs a digital rectal examination — inserting a gloved, lubricated finger into the lower part of the rectum to feel for lumps. That’s how Marcia Cross’ cancer was discovered during a routine medical appointment. She credits it for saving her life.
“You can say, ‘OK this is embarrassing, this is uncomfortable’ and by time you know it, it’s over. I mean lots of things in life are not fun. But you can bear it,” Cross told CBS News.
Thin, flexible instruments with lights and cameras can also help doctors take a closer look at any suspicious spots and a biopsy can determine if cancer is present.
Imaging scans are used to find if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
June 3, 201906:59
What is the treatment?
It depends where the tumor is located and whether it has metastasized.
Standard treatment includes radiation, chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumor. Doctors can also remove the anus, the rectum and part of the colon in a major operation called an abdominoperineal resection. It’s used only if other treatments don’t work or if the cancer comes back after treatment, according to the American Cancer Society.
What is the outlook for patients?
As with all cancers, early detection is extremely important. More than 80% of patients whose anal cancer had not spread lived for at least five more years after diagnosis. That number dropped to 30% when the cancer had spread to the liver or lungs.
Farrah Fawcett, the 70s television star and sex symbol, wants to live her life on camera until the very end. That is why the actress has allowed her best friend, Alana Stewart, to film even the rawest moments of her battle with terminal cancer – including one when she writhed in agony, clutching a rosary, in a hospital bed.
“She was projectile vomiting and she looks up at me and says, ‘Why aren’t you filming this? This is what cancer is’,” a tearful Stewart recounts in the harrowing film, Farrah’s Story, which aired in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Now commentators in America are saying the heartrending documentary – effectively Fawcett’s curtain call – could result in an Emmy for the actress, named as an executive producer. It is an industry honour that has eluded her so far.
Fawcett, who soared to fame as the blonde bombshell private eye in the original Charlie’s Angels TV series, appears close to death in the final scenes of the film, so ill and sedated that she doesn’t recognise her own son.
Her longtime companion, film star Ryan O’Neal, is seen on camera sobbing and shaking as he says: “We had all better brace ourselves.”
Fawcett first began a simple video diary of her treatment in the early days after she was diagnosed with a rare anal cancer in September 2006.
But it soon turned into an extraordinary, unsparing record of a painful two-and-a-half-year rollercoaster ride of hopes raised and dashed repeatedly throughout gruelling treatments.
Fawcett turned the project into a documentary after fellow cancer sufferers urged her to go public with her fight in an effort to highlight the need for early detection and more research.
There are hopeful moments in the film and Fawcett shows incredible resilience, but even as she vows to fight on the tale becomes progressively bleaker. The 62-year-old is shown most recently in bed at home, barely conscious under a heap of bedclothes, after O’Neal said she had “pretty much” stopped receiving treatment. He said he would wake her up to watch the documentary.
After many treatments had caused her agony but spared what her Los Angeles doctor Lawrence Piro called “the most famous hair in the world”, Fawcett is seen late in the film with her hair falling out in clumps. She shaves most of it off, then shows her head to the camera, bald but for a remaining blond fringe.
The actresses who played her fellow “Angels” in the 1976 series, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith, are both shown rallying around their former co-star. “Hair or no hair, she is Farrah and I never heard her complain once,” says Smith.
Fawcett opens the film by saying to camera: “In September 2006 I heard three words I thought I would never hear – malignant, tumour and anal.” She underwent intense chemotherapy and radiotherapy and was declared cancer-free in February of the following year. But in May 2007 there was grim news. “That’s when I heard the fourth word I never thought I would hear – recurrence,” Fawcett tells the camera.
She films a roomful of nervous doctors telling her that a peanut-sized tumour in her rectum had spread cancer cells to her liver. “Suddenly there were nine tumours in my liver,” she says.
The LA doctors could not operate on the original tumour without a colostomy. So Fawcett is documented beginning multiple trips to Germany for delicate surgery and several alternative chemotherapies and laser treatment on the liver tumours.
Stewart films the excruciating procedures as surgeons push long needles through her rib cartilage to inject chemicals directly into the liver tumours. Fawcett groans and cringes in pain. O’Neal stands quietly weeping nearby. “I’m scared. Farrah taught me how to live,” O’Neal sobs.
He has been her on-off boyfriend since they got together in 1982.
In her Charlie’s Angels days she was Farrah Fawcett-Majors – married to Lee Majors, who played a bionic man in the equally popular science fiction TV show Six Million Dollar Man. They separated in 1979 and there is no mention of him in the documentary.
But O’Neal, whose biggest screen hit was the 1970 blockbuster Love Story, is now her constant companion. “I’ve loved her more these last years than ever… she doesn’t want anyone to pity her or worry. She puts up a brave fight as if everything is fine, when it’s not,” said O’Neal.
Fawcett also had to battle the gossip sheets after a hospital insider sold copies of her medical records to the National Enquirer tabloid.
At the height of her fame, Fawcett posed for a cheesy but iconic swimsuit poster that became synonymous with American glamour and sold 12m copies worldwide. Less well known is that after Charlie’s Angels she had a respectable movie career and won acclaim for stage acting off Broadway in New York.
The irony of a famous sex symbol suffering from what many regard as an unmentionable type of cancer may be bitter, but Fawcett breaks barriers by being the anal cancer sufferer prepared to bare herself on camera. She is seen flying back and forth to Germany, at times joking, at others wrapped pathetically in a blanket and injecting herself with painkillers, or being pushed in a wheelchair through the airport with a bowl on her lap to vomit into.
Satirist PJ O’Rourke suffered the same cancer, but has been successfully treated so far. He wrote wittily about it and called it “ass cancer”.
Fawcett does not reveal if she knows what caused her cancer. Most cases of anal cancer are sparked by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus. Smoking can also be a factor.
Fawcett is seen in the documentary celebrating with whoops of joy and a Mexican holiday a year ago, after treatment breakthroughs prompted her German doctors to call her a walking miracle. But it was short-lived. She sobs on camera when a scan last summer showed a new tumour in her anus and fresh tumours in her liver. “I feel like a dog who has been to the vet too many times,” Fawcett says weakly as last-ditch surgery in Germany and trial treatments in LA fail.
Her 91-year-old father Jim flew in from Texas earlier this month, reportedly to bid her goodbye.
Meanwhile, it had been kept from Fawcett that her son with Ryan O’Neal, Redmond, 24, was in jail on charges of possessing heroin.
Just days ago, Dr Piro wrote to the judge in Redmond’s case asking if he could be released to see his mother for what might be the last time.
Redmond O’Neal is seen on camera in his prison jumpsuit, having his handcuffs taken off by an accompanying guard, but remaining shackled at the ankles as he bends close to his mother over the bed and says: “Mommy? It’s Redmond. It’s your son.”
When asked if she had recognised him, he says: “I hope so.”
Fawcett finishes the documentary with a commentary explaining its purpose, recorded before she became bedridden, and asking: “Why is there not more research into certain types of cancer? Why doesn’t our health system embrace alternative treatments that have proved successful in other countries? I have got cancer, but I’m alive. What are you fighting for?”
Celebrities and friends who attended a screening were in tears. “It’s intense. Everyone should see this film,” said actress Melanie Griffith as she dabbed her eyes.
June 25, 2009 — Former “Charlie’s Angel” Farrah Fawcett died today at age 62 after a long struggle with anal cancer, her spokesman told media organizations.
Fawcett’s movie and TV roles after Charlie’s Angels included The Cannonball Run, The Burning Bed, Small Sacrifices, Extremities, and The Apostle. Fawcett’s swimsuit poster made her an icon in the 1970s. She and Ryan O’Neal have a son, Redmond, born in 1985.
Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006.
At the time, Fawcett got radiation and chemotherapy to treat her cancer, but in May 2007, Fawcett learned that her cancer was back and that it had spread to her liver as stage IV cancer.
Fawcett had traveled to Germany six times seeking cancer treatment. That treatment included chemotherapy, surgery to remove the original anal cancer, laser treatments of the tumors in her liver, and other surgeries and procedures that were mentioned but not specified in Farrah’s Story, a documentary shown on NBC in May 2009.
That documentary shows Fawcett being told, in early 2008, that her liver tumors were no longer active. Her U.S. doctor, Lawrence Piro, MD, explains in the documentary that Fawcett wasn’t cancer free, but that “each of the known sites of tumor in the liver had all been treated and, on scans, were looking inactive.” Piro is the president and CEO of The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute in Los Angeles.
But in the spring of 2008, scans showed new tumors in Fawcett’s liver and regrowth of her original anal tumor.
In the summer of 2008, Fawcett entered a clinical trial of an experimental drug in the U.S., but those treatments did not prove successful and scans showed that her tumor was progressing. Fawcett also switched to other chemotherapy drugs, which made her hair fall out — something that Piro says Fawcett had wanted to avoid in her earlier cancer treatment.
After her sixth trip to Germany for more treatments — described only as “surgical procedures” in her documentary — Fawcett was hospitalized in April 2009 because of a blood clot.
Comments about Fawcett can be posted on WebMD’s news blog.
Earlier this year, WebMD spoke to the American Cancer Society’s Debbie Saslow, PhD, about anal cancer. Here’s what Saslow shared:
What Really Killed Farrah Fawcett?
In a recent interview between CNN’s Piers Morgan and Ryan O’Neal, O’Neal claimed that the stress resulting from his family turmoil may have contributed to Farrah Fawcett’s death. He stated,“…we really don’t know what causes cancer…”
When it comes to anal cancer, the disease that took Fawcett’s life in June of 2009, we certainly do know the cause. More than 90 percent of anal cancers are the result of Human Papillomavirus (HPV). This is the same virus responsible for cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile and oral cancers.
The list of cancers resulting from HPV continues to grow, with oral cancer (mainly affecting men) as the latest on the ongoing list. It has been known for quite some time, however, that HPV is responsible for anal cancer.
Over the past three decades, anal cancer has risen among women by 78 percent, and it has risen among men by 160 percent. Those figures were taken from a study done in 2004 by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. It has been another seven years, and still, little is done to inform the public of this rapidly growing trend and the vaccine that can prevent the two most aggressive strains of HPV known to cause anal cancer.
When Fawcett’s documentary regarding her diagnosis and treatment for anal cancer aired in 2009, anal cancer survivors and others with HPV watched intently. They wanted to see if there would be a public service announcement at the end of the documentary to educate others on the potential for HPV to be cancer causing. Also, they wanted viewers to know a vaccine exists. But the announcement never came, nor was HPV ever spoken about during the documentary.
This doesn’t mean that Fawcett had HPV—only medical professionals and her family knows the answer to this question. It did, however, inflame weeks of posts on various HPV support blogs. The outrage took some time to die down, but the sentiment expressed by everyone was virtually the same.
Why couldn’t she have at least used this opportunity to educate the public beyond the existence of anal cancer (and the hopes of removing the stigma)?
Why didn’t she also make the connection to HPV, the virus that most only know is related to cervical cancer?
It is truly unfortunate, because whether she had HPV or not, as a well-known celebrity, and with a documentary that garnered literally millions of viewers, she had an opportunity to do so much more to educate the public. Had individuals learned even two years ago that a vaccine exists to protect against HPV and anal cancer, some victims would still probably be alive today.
This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.
‘Why my cancer – that killed Farrah Fawcett – is still the last taboo’
“The radiotherapy was intense over the genital area – so I experienced quite a bit of burning and blistering,” says Jill. “But no matter how sore I felt I made a point of wearing lipstick, bangles and bright colours every day to make myself feel better.”
Thankfully, the discomfort was short-lived and the treatment was successful – with Jill now undergoing regular checks. “It was only afterwards that I realised how silly it was to be so secretive about anal cancer. The more I learned, the more I realised Ellie was right – I did need to be more open.”
Nine out of 10 cases of anal cancer are caused by human papilloma – an increasingly prevalent virus. Experts say 80% of sexually active adults are exposed to it at some point and a third of the population carry it.
“Most will live long, healthy lives,” says Jill. “But a tiny percentage will develop a cancer linked to the virus. Anal cancer is one. Others are cervical, vulval, penile, head, neck and throat.
“Many people assume – as I did – that anal cancer only affects those who have been promiscuous or had unprotected or anal sex. But it can affect anyone who has been sexually active.”
With Jill’s encouragement, Ellie launched the Behind Cancer Campaign. Then they were approached by The HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation to join forces.
Jill de Nardo and family
“One of the key messages is that HPV-linked cancer is both preventable – which is why we’re campaigning for the HPV vaccination to be offered to teenage boys as well as girls – and highly treatable if caught early.”
Experts warn that it will be decades before we start to see cases falling.
“Even if we start vaccinating girls and boys now against HPV, the benefits won’t be seen for at least 20 years,” says consultant clinical oncologist Dr Duncan Gilbert. Meanwhile, David Winterflood, of the HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation, says sufferers frequently experience shame and social isolation, due to misconceptions and ignorance about the cause of the disease and how it is transmitted.
“Not that long ago people were embarrassed to talk about breast, bowel, prostate and testicular cancer, says Jill.
“Thankfully, that’s all changed. It would be great to see that happen with anal cancer, too.”
- For more info, visit analcancerfoundation.org and hpvaction.org
How Farrah Fawcett Fought to Raise Awareness About Anal Cancer: ‘She Wanted To Make a Difference’
Ten years after Farrah Fawcett‘s death from anal cancer at age 62, she’s being remembered for bringing attention to a disease that is rarely talked about.
“Farrah was very practical about the fact she might be famous, but when it came to cancer, no one was special,” her Los Angeles-based oncologist Dr. Laurence Piro tells PEOPLE. “She was brave and heroically so. She hated hearing her name and anal cancer in the same sentence, but it was important for the stigma to be broken. She wanted to raise awareness from the very beginning.”
Long celebrated for her tousled hair and perfect smile, the late star — she died June 25, 2009 — always wanted to be defined by more than her looks, and in making her cancer battle public and launching The Farrah Fawcett Foundation in 2007, she redefined her legacy.
“She felt she was supposed to carry the torch for people who could not tell their story, how much they suffer,” says Dr. Piro. “She wanted everyone to see, so that people would be motivated to put money towards research, to get the word out about early detection and prevention.”
- PEOPLE’s special edition celebrating the life of Farrah Fawcett is on sale now on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold
Image zoom Farrah Fawcett Hulton Archive/Getty
After her diagnosis in 2006, Fawcett began filming her medical appointments to better understand her treatment. That footage became the basis for the wrenching documentary Farrah’s Story, co-produced with her friend Alana Stewart, which aired six weeks before her death.
“She wanted people to see the raw truth of cancer, for better or worse,” says Stewart. “Right until the end, she wanted to fight the fight. She wanted to make a difference.”
RELATED: Farrah Fawcett’s Friends Recall Her Final Days and Her Last Words: ‘Redmond’
According to Stewart, “Farrah once said to her doctor, ‘You know it’s funny, I’m almost glad I got cancer in a way. Now I can make a real difference.’ And that is what she wanted to do with her foundation.”
Fawcett’s original plan was that she would run the foundation herself. “Her vision was to help people struggling with cancer, and look into cutting-edge research, especially for less-researched cancers, such as anal cancer,” says Stewart. “The other part was to focus on awareness and prevention and how important early detection is to saving your life.”
Image zoom Jaclyn Smith, Farrah Fawcett and
Today, the foundation pursues her vision by focusing on HPV-related cancer research, prevention and education, as well as patient assistance.
In 2013, the foundation joined forces with Stand Up to Cancer to contribute $1.5 million dollars to help fund a research team on HPV-related cancers. (They are now conducting clinical trials at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.) The foundation has also created patient assistance funds at seven medical centers to help cancer patients pay expenses related to treatment.
On Sept. 6, the foundation will host its Tex Mex Fiesta fundraiser to raise money, which will go to Stand Up to Cancer. “If people want to remember Farrah this year, they can go to the foundation website and make a donation, and specify whether for research or patient assistance in honor of someone they know who has or has had cancer,” says the foundation’s Director of Communications, Christine Romeo.
RELATED: 10 Years After Farrah Fawcett Died, Ryan O’Neal Says, ‘There Was Never a Day I Didn’t Love Her’
In the decade since her passing, Fawcett’s Charlie’s Angels costar Jaclyn Smith says, “Farrah didn’t give up. She was relentless in her fight and in finding a cure. That is her greatest legacy, her foundation. Farrah was a person of action. It was more about action than talking about it.”
And Fawcett was heartened by the huge response she received by sharing her story.
“She read every letter that was sent to her,” says her dear friend, Mela Murphy. “She felt good that people were relating to her. If she could fight it, she thought others could fight it as well. She felt good she was giving other people hope.”
- By Liz McNeil @lizmcneil
Farrah Fawcett’s Death Sheds Light on Anal Cancer
With the recent death of Farrah Fawcett, anal cancer has become an unlikely and uncomfortable topic of conversation across America. Since one of the cornerstones of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s mission is education, the Foundation wanted to provide some answers to questions about this often shunned cancer to help educate the public and lift some myths about this often-fatal cancer. By knowing some basic facts, people will be armed with knowledge and better equipped to be an advocate for taking steps to reduce their own cancer risk.
Anal cancer is an uncommon type of cancer that occurs in the anal canal. Anal cancer is relatively rare, with 5,290 cases (2,100 occurring in men and 3,190 in women) diagnosed and about 700 deaths in the United States each year. Yet, statistics aside, there are still some things unknown, such as how to improve treatments. What is known is that anal cancer is strongly linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus that is also linked to cervical cancer and oral cancer.
Q. What is anal cancer?
- Anal cancer is cancer located in the anus or anal canal, the tube at the end of the rectum through which bowel movements leave the body. It is not a common cancer. In 2009, 5,290 people will be diagnosed with anal cancer, compared to 146,970 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer, or cancer of the colon and rectum.
Q. How do people get anal cancer?
- Anal cancer is strongly linked to certain types of HPV, a virus that spreads through anal sex with an HPV-infected partner. HPV is also linked to cervical cancer and oral cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., and “you can’t always tell by looking” whether a person has HPV. While many people may become infected with HPV, most people’s immune systems get rid of the virus before it does any harm. Having anal sex with someone who has HPV may put a person at risk of becoming infected with HPV. Some people who are infected with HPV may develop growths inside or outside the anus, and some growths may develop into cancer. Anal cancer may also develop as cells in the lining of the anal canal start to grow and multiply in abnormal ways.
These factors also increase the risk for anal cancer:
- Having cervical cancer
- Having a weakened immune system (such as from chemotherapy, organ transplantation or HIV infection)
- Having inflammatory bowel disease, or hemorrhoids or other noncancerous growths
Q. How can people protect themselves from anal cancer?
- The main factor associated with anal cancer is HPV, a sexually transmitted virus. Many studies have found HPV in anal cancer tumors. The most important way people can protect themselves from anal cancer is to avoid infection with HPV, by not having anal sex or by using condoms correctly and consistently during anal sex. However, condoms cannot give complete protection against HPV because the virus can infect areas that are not covered by a condom. Also, condoms are more likely to break during anal sex than during vaginal sex. Some researchers think that the HPV vaccine may help protect people against anal cancer, as it helps to protect women from cervical cancer. Not smoking is also protective, and people who stop smoking do reduce their risk for anal cancer.
These answers draw on information from the National Cancer Institute at www.cancer.gov and the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org.
June 25, 2009 — Farrah Fawcett, the 1970s “It Girl” who was known for her cascading golden hair and bombshell body, died in a Santa Monica hospital today, ABC News has learned. She was 62-years-old.
“After a long and brave battle with cancer, our beloved Farrah has passed away,” Fawcett’s longtime romantic partner Ryan O’Neal said in a statement released by Fawcett’s publicist, Paul Bloch. “Although this is an extremely difficult time for her family and friends, we take comfort in the beautiful times that we shared with Farrah over the years and the knowledge that her life brought joy to so many people around the world.”
Watch a special edition of “20/20” TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET for the Barbara Walters special “Farrah’s Love.”
Fawcett became a symbol of the will to survive through her years-long battle with cancer, which was chronicled in the recent TV documentary “Farrah’s Story.” Her death comes on the heels of O’Neal’s declaration that she agreed to marry him.
“I’ve asked her to marry me, again, and she’s agreed,” O’Neal, 68, told Barbara Walters who sat down with O’Neal and others close to Fawcett in the final days of the actress’ life.
Fawcett and O’Neal began dating in 1980 and lived together with son Redmond. The two never officially tied the knot, but not for O’Neal’s lack of trying.
“I used to ask her to marry me all the time,” he said. “But … it just got to be a joke, you know. We just joked about it.”
Now, Fawcett leaves behind O’Neal, their 24-year-old son and her father, James. She was previously married to Lee Majors, star of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” from 1973 to 1982.
Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006. Although doctors declared her free of cancer in February 2007, a few months later they learned that the cancer had returned.
Fawcett’s alternative approach to her cancer treatment was surrounded by much controversy. After her initial diagnosis, Fawcett received traditional treatments in California.
According to People.com, Fawcett was “disheartened” by both the reoccurrence of the cancer and the treatment she was receiving in the United States, so she traveled to Germany’s University Clinic in Frankfurt in search of an alternative course of treatment.
Some reports have said that she received experimental stem cell treatment while in Germany. But Craig Nevius, who helped produce “Farrah’s Story,” told ABCNews.com that while details of the stem cell treatment have been widely reported, it has never been confirmed by the actress or sources close to her.
Last year, an employee at the UCLA Medical Center was disciplined for accessing Fawcett’s medical records, a few weeks after the hospital announced that several employees had been fired for snooping in Britney Spears’ records.
Fawcett’s attorney told The Associated Press that an employee at the hospital reviewed the actress’ medical records without authorization and then details about her treatment appeared in the tabloid the National Enquirer.
Though Fawcett returned home earlier this year, taking a break from long hospital stays, according to People magazine, the actress returned to the hospital for at least two weeks prior to her death.
Farrah Fawcett’s Life in the Limelight
Fawcett first stepped into the spotlight playing Jill Munroe in the TV series “Charlie’s Angels” in the 1970s. The series became a smash hit and Fawcett quickly became an iconic pin-up model for millions of men. She pioneered a feathered hairstyle dubbed the “Farrah Do” or “Farrah Hair” that remained in vogue throughout the decade.
She later went on to earn one of three career Emmy Award nominations for her role as a battered wife in the acclaimed television movie “The Burning Bed.”
Fawcett stirred controversy when she posed nude in the December 1995 issue of Playboy, but buzz about the actress baring all only served to make the magazine fly off newsstands — the issue was Playboy’s most successful of the 1990s, with over 4 million copies sold worldwide.
Defying naysayers, in 1997, at age 50, Fawcett posed again for the July issue of Playboy, which also sold well.
Fawcett’s last project was closely tied to her illness. “Farrah’s Story,” the 90-minute documentary chronicling her battle with cancer, featured footage shot by Fawcett and her friends on a home video camera. It aired on NBC in May, attracting 8.9 million viewers.
The film showed both the ugly and uplifting sides of her struggle, juxtaposing video of Fawcett vomiting and shaving her head with scenes of her dancing with friends during times when her health was up. “Farrah’s Story” also featured moving footage of her lying on a hospital bed with O’Neal, and his solemn vow, spoken to the camera: “I will never love anyone like I love Farrah.”
- Farrah Fawcett, Charlie’s Angels actress and Playboy model, died in 2009 after battling anal cancer for roughly three years.
- Her friends told People that her last words before her death were about her son, Redmond, who she had with fellow actor Ryan O’Neal.
- Farrah’s lifetime achievements are featured in the new A&E documentary Farrah Forever, which airs at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
Farrah Fawcett was most concerned about her son, Redmond O’Neal, before she died at age 62 of anal cancer in 2009.
As her friend Mela Murphy revealed to People in June, the iconic Playboy model was apparently very worried about Redmond’s future. At the time, her then-24-year-old son, who she had with fellow actor Ryan O’Neal, was battling drug addiction and serving time in prison for drug-related charges.
“She was saying his name, ‘Redmond,'” Mela recalled. “That was the last thing she said … I told her I’d take care of him, that I’ll always be there for him. I said, ‘You can go now.’ It was just a few hours before she died.”
Ryan O’Neal (C) and Farrah Fawcett arrive with their son Redmond (L) at the premiere of Malibu’s Most Wanted on April 10, 2003. Getty
When Farrah died on June 25, she left Redmond $4.5 million. The money, though, was strictly to be used only for her son’s health care and rehabilitation.
Last summer, at the age of 33, Redmond was charged with attempted murder after allegedly attacking five men and robbing a 7-Eleven convenience store last summer. He pleaded not guilty to the robbery and other charges, including possession of methamphetamine and heroin. He is reportedly now in a Los Angeles Country jail, as a judge has not yet ruled whether he is competent to stand trial.
Apart from Redmond, the publication also reports that Ryan, who she fell in love with back in 1979, slept in a cot next to her hospital bed and proposed to her a few weeks before she died. The couple were on and off for many years.
Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal in New York City in 1989. Getty
“He never left her side, especially those last few months,” Farrah’s friend Alana Stewart said. “I think they would’ve married if she had made it because he asked her to marry him in the hospital and she said yes. But she took a turn for the worse. This was just a few weeks before the end, so perhaps it wasn’t realistic.”
She continued: “The two of them had a deep bond and deep love. No matter what they went through, the ups and downs, he was the one she wanted by her side.”
Ten years after Farrah’s death, Ryan told People, “There was never a day I didn’t love her.”
Related Stories Kayla Keegan News and Entertainment Editor Kayla Keegan covers all things in the entertainment, pop culture, and celebrity space for Good Housekeeping.