Of all the diseases that a person can get, one of the scariest is cancer. It is the second leading cause of death for people in the United States behind only heart disease, accounting for 22.5 percent of all deaths each year.
And unlike heart disease, the risk of which is largely determined by dietary and lifestyle choices, anyone can develop cancer at any time. Although the risk of cancer increases with a person’s age, many people are diagnosed with it early in life, including the rich and famous. Here are 20 celebrities that you may not know were diagnosed with cancer before the age of 40.
Zohn is a former pro soccer player who is most famous for being the winner of the reality TV show Survivor: Africa, which earned him $1,000,000 in 2001. He came back into the public spotlight in 2009 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He lost his trademark curly hair during successful chemotherapy treatments but his cancer returned in 2011. After treatment involving stem cells donated by his brother, his cancer finally went into remission in 2013.
Rancic is a television celebrity best known for her work as a co-host for E!’s Fashion Police and for red carpet events. In 2011, at the age of 36, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her fans saw some of her and her husband’s struggles with the disease on the reality TV show, Giuliana and Bill. She elected to have a double mastectomy and has been cancer free since.
Reiser is a screenwriter and producer who’s worked on TV shows like Da Ali G Show and Best Week Ever, but is best known for his film 50/50, which was inspired by his own real life struggles with cancer. At the age of 25, he was diagnosed with a form of spinal cancer where a large tumor had wrapped around his spine, which doctors were eventually able to remove surgically. Reiser had an interesting take on beating cancer, saying “when you tell people you’re a survivor, people always seem so impressed, like I had anything to do with it.”
Best known for her portrayal of Miranda on Sex and the City, Nixon was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 at the age of 36. She was still filming the HBO series when she was diagnosed, but kept it a secret in order to avoid paparazzi scrutiny. After undergoing a lumpectomy and radiation treatment, she became a spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in 2008. And in 2018, she began a campaign to challenge incumbent Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary for governor of New York.
After first being introduced to the world as Kelly Bundy on the hit series Married with Children, Applegate (center) went on to become successful in both TV and movies. But in 2008, at the age of 36, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy as treatment. She credited the birth of her daughter Sadie with helping her to see beyond her cancer diagnosis, saying, “She’s healed me in so many ways.”
Michael C. Hall
Hall was a star on the HBO hit series Six Feet Under and the hit Showtime series Dexter. But at the age of 38, while his professional life was a wild success, he revealed in January of 2010 that he was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy treatment was a success and he was officially in remission by late April 2010.
Eikenberry was a hugely successful actor in the ‘80s, best known for her role as Ann Kelsey on the show L.A. Law. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987 at the age of 39, and after her treatment went on to co-produce the documentary Destined to Live, where she and other cancer survivors told their stories to encourage early detection.
Jackson was one of the original Charlie’s Angels, starring alongside Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith. It was a breakout role in her career and she would go on to star in a number of TV shows and movies afterward. In 1987, at the age of 39, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Jackson, after several treatments and operations, was finally cancer free and continued acting for decades to come.
Marissa Jaret Winokur
Best known for her Tony Award winning performance in Hairspray, 27-year-old Winkour was preparing for a role on Broadway when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Even after removing a portion of her cervix, her cancer continued to spread and she had to undergo a hysterectomy. She has since become an advocate for the HPV vaccination. “Now there is an HPV test that might have caught my precancerous cells earlier,” Winkour said. “There’s a vaccine which can be given to women before they are sexually active.”
Armstrong was the most-celebrated cyclist in the world after coming back to the sport following a successful battle with testicular cancer in 1996 at the age of 25. His cancer spread to his brain, lungs, and abdomen before he’d finally beaten it. Before he was eventually disgraced in a performance-enhancing drug scandal, he was a symbol of inspiration for people around the world.
Brown became known to audiences after competing on the MTV reality show The Challenge, becoming a fan favorite due to her drama-filled relationship with Chris “CT” Tamburello and her openness about her battle with ovarian cancer — even so far as to take off her wig on air in a touching moment during one of the show’s episodes. After six years of remission, her cancer returned in 2012. From there, it was a back and forth battle until she finally passed away in 2014 at the age of 34.
The highly respected actor has starred in blockbuster movies like The Avengers as well as smaller TV shows like The Normal Heart. The story of his cancer diagnosis is itself like something out of a movie. In 2000, at the age of 33, Ruffalo went to the doctor with a crazy story. “Listen, I really had a scary dream last night,” he’d told the doctor, “and you’ll probably think that I’m crazy but … I think I have a brain tumor and I would really like to get it checked out.” His dream turned out to be a reality and, thanks to an early diagnosis, he was able to make a full recovery.
Green first came to fame through his absurdist comedy antics on the MTV series The Tom Green Show. He would parlay his buffoonery into a respectable movie career and a marriage to Drew Barrymore. But in 2000, at the height of his popularity, the 29-year-old was diagnosed with testicular cancer. After successful treatment, he used his popularity to bring awareness to the disease through humor with things like The Tom Green Cancer Special, a song called Feel Your Balls, and the Tom Green’s Nuts Cancer Fund.
Easily the most famous musician to come from Jamaica, Marley is credited with bringing reggae music to people around the world. When he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in one of his toes in 1977, he made the mistake of disregarding his doctor’ advice to amputate. That cancer would spread throughout his body into his lungs and brain and in 1981, he died at the age of 36. Ever the profound thinker, his last words to his song Ziggy were, “money can’t buy life.”
Best known for her role as Jessica Wakefield on Sweet Valley High and Kelly Pitts on The Game, Daniel’s life was impacted by cancer twice. In 2008, her father Charlton passed away from cancer and three years later, at the age of 22, Brittany herself was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She underwent chemotherapy and was cancer free by 2014, which was when she revealed her struggle to the public.
The ultra-popular Australian singer-songwriter and actress has been a star since her first album was released back in 1988, and she’s since sold over 80 million records. Minogue spent her years since making hits and touring, but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 at the age of 37, she had to put one of her tours on hold. After surgery and chemotherapy, she got back to making music and touring the following year. She also added beating cancer to the philanthropic causes she supports, alongside ending child abuse and AIDS.
Buell is best known for directing A&E’s Paranormal State, executive producing the film American Ghost Hunter, and as the founder of the Paranormal Research Society. His inclusion on this list comes with a bit of an asterisk. That’s because Buell claimed that he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 30 in 2012, and said he was in remission in 2013. But his mother Shelly Lundberg said in a Facebook post that “[Buell’s] ill, but not from cancer. His family knows the REAL story. You all need to stop believing his lies and stop enabling him … PLEASE!!” Like the paranormal phenomena he claims to research, his disease could possibly be an illusion.
Kaufman was a once-in-a-generation comedian famous for his sketch comedy skills and wild, over-the-top stunts that actually got him banned from Saturday Night Live. He blurred the line so often between reality and fiction that when he was diagnosed with large-cell carcinoma, an extremely rare type of lung cancer, in 1983, people thought it was a hoax. Even after he died at the age of 35 in 1984, many people believed that his death was some sort of prank.
Menounos is an actress, journalist, TV host and even a professional wrestler. She’s been in films like Tropic Thunder, TV shows like One Tree Hill and Scrubs, and carried on a feud with WWE Divas Champion, Phoenix. For about two years, she felt exhausted, had terrible headaches and couldn’t figure out why. Then in February of 2017, she went to a doctor for ear pain. The doctor told her her ear was fine and asked what her other symptoms were. Following the visit, Menounos was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was able to make a full recovery after she had surgery to remove the tumor.
An actress and comedian, Vance was best known for being a cast member of Saturday Night Live during its eleventh season, and work in films like Sticky Fingers, Limit Up, and Jumpin’ at the Boneyard. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990, she underwent a single mastectomy and incorporated the experience into a solo skit, “The Radical Girl’s Guide to Radical Mastectomy.” Unfortunately, her cancer returned in 1993 and she died the following year at the age of 40.