The Doctors pay tribute to fallen stars of the music and television industries who are gone but never forgotten. Learn what caused their untimely deaths and how to prevent succumbing to the same or similar fate.
Donna Summer: 1948 - 2012
Music icon Donna Summer, known as “The Queen of Disco,” became a household name during the dance era of the late 1970s and was the first performing artist to top the U.S. Billboard charts with three consecutive double-albums. In 2011, the world was shocked to discover that the Grammy-winning singer had been diagnosed with lung cancer, unrelated to smoking. After a courageous battle with the disease, Donna passed away at the age of 63 in May of 2012.
Cancer specialist and President/CEO of The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute Dr. Lawrence Piro and The Doctors discuss the chances of a non-smoker developing lung cancer.
“It’s relatively infrequent; about one in 10,000 non-smokers get lung cancer,” Dr. Piro explains. “Overall, about 10 to 15 percent of lung cancers that occur [are] in non-smokers, but when they do, two-thirds of those are women.”
Dr. Piro reveals that radon, an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas generated naturally from the earth, is the second most common trigger for lung cancer in non-smokers, next to prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke. Radon has been known to accumulate under some houses, so Dr. Piro stresses the importance of testing your home for radon, as there are systems that can be put in place to divert the gas away from a house and reduce inhabitants’ risks of developing lung cancer or other respiratory illnesses.
Breathing in asbestos as well as air pollution over time can also be contributing factors to lung cancer. Dr. Piro explains that the warning signs of lung cancer can be subtle but persistent cough accompanied with blood, as well as weight loss and decreased appetite can all be indicative of the disease. CT scans can be life-saving for some smokers, as they can detect nodules and growths in early stages before they amass into larger tumors and metastasize throughout the body.
Lung Cancer Prevention Tips:
• Do not smoke.
• Avoid secondhand smoke.
• Avoid exposure to radon and have home tested and treated.
• Avoid exposure to asbestos or other carcinogenic chemicals.
• Incorporate a diet of fruits and vegetables, rich in antioxidants and vitamins.
• Exercise regularly to prohibit dangerous fat buildup and resulting bodily inflammation.
Yvette Wilson: 1964 - 2012
Yvette Wilson, best known for her comedic roles in the UPN sitcoms Moesha and The Parkers, unexpectedly passed away at the age of 48 after a battle with Stage 4 cervical cancer and complications from kidney disease.
“Around the world, cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in women, but in the U.S., it’s much more rare because we have such good screening guidelines,” OB-GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says.
Approximately 90 percent of cervical cancer cases are attributed to HPV, which is also the primary cause of both oral and anal cancers, as well; however, there is no evidence showing that Yvette Wilson’s cervical cancer was attributed to HPV.
“HPV, human papillomavirus – what happens is these viruses will actually enter the cells and cause them to abnormally grow,” ER physician Dr. Travis Stork explains. “That’s why it can lead to cancer, because what is cancer? Abnormal growth of cells.”
The HPV vaccine is recommended by the majority of physicians as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to halt cancer before it has a chance to occur.
Opponents against the HPV vaccine argue that it may instill the idea of free rein in relation to sexual activity; in addition, the fact that the vaccine only protects against 70 percent of HPV strains leads some people to question the point of the vaccine. Dr. Piro explains that the HPV virus can invade cells and live there for 20 years or longer before the cells become cancerous. “It isn’t [an] infection [that] leads to cancer right now. You don’t know, and that’s why getting people immunized so that they can never even get infected is the most important thing,” he says.
Lucille Ball: 1911 - 1989
Lucille Ball is an American icon and will forever remain one of the most influential women in entertainment. As Lucy in the I Love Lucy show, Lucille Ball captivated audiences from all over the world, and the Hollywood actress became the first woman to run a major television studio while continuing to act in the process. On April 18, 1989, Lucille was rushed to the hospital after complaining of chest pains. Doctors diagnosed a dissecting aortic aneurysm and Lucille underwent an emergency aortic transplant. Eight days later, her aorta ruptured again and Lucille could not be saved. She was 77 years old.
“Not all chest pain is the same and not all chest pain is a heart attack,” Dr. Travis explains. “Aortic dissection – you often will have a ripping, tearing sensation in your chest and it can happen immediately. When an aortic dissection ruptures, it’s such massive blood loss and it occurs under such high pressure that literally within what seems like moments, someone can pass away.”
Learn how aortic dissection can happen suddenly and cause death in a matter of minutes.
Dick Clark: 1929 - 2012
Born Richard Wagstaff Clark in Bronxville, New York, Dick Clark’s name would soon become synonymous with rock 'n' roll. He quickly rose from the mailroom at his uncle’s TV station to national fame with his show American Bandstand. Through the years, Clark became a successful TV producer, restaurateur and TV host. In 2004, he suffered a stroke that impeded his speech. Clark underwent a routine surgery in 2012 to fix an enlarged prostate, but his 82-year-old heart was unable to sustain the aftermath of the operation, and he suffered a fatal cardiac arrest the following day.
“As men get older, we tend to get enlarged prostates. It’s just a fact of life. If you live long enough, you’re going to get an enlarged prostate,” Dr. Travis says.
Plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon explains how a transurethral prostatic resection, the common procedure that Clark underwent, is performed.
Robin Gibb: 1949 - 2012
Along with brothers Maurice and Barry, Robin Gibb started one of Britain’s most popular musical groups of all time – The Bee Gees. The trio soon launched into stardom after consecutive chart-topping songs and are still revered as disco legends. Robin eventually went on to a successful solo career, which was abruptly cut short in 2010 after severe abdominal pains began to deter his performance schedule. He was soon diagnosed with colorectal cancer, which had metastasized to his liver. Following an abdominal surgery in 2012, Robin contracted pneumonia and passed away from liver and kidney failure at the age of 62.
Gastroenterologist Dr. Jorge Rodriguez explains that colorectal cancer is very prevalent today, ranking as the third most common cancer in both men and women. Approximately 150,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer in the U.S. every year and roughly 50,000 of those people die from the disease.
“The primary thing that people need to be aware of with colon cancer is their family history,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “There is a genetic component.”
Dr. Rodriguez adds that people who are obese or have diabetes are more predisposed to colorectal cancer.
Despite the screening recommendations for a colonscopy, many people have reservations about the process. Mindy, 51, has been experiencing digestive problems over the years but is concerned to have a colonoscopy performed.
“A friend of mine had a colonoscopy, and she told me that she felt irritation and discomfort for about a month afterwards,” Mindy says, “and ever since I heard that, I’ve been apprehensive about having one.”
“The most important thing in treating colon cancer is to get it early,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “That’s the only chance you really have of curing colon cancer.”
Dr. Rodriguez explains how prepping for a colonoscopy is more difficult than the actual procedure, as the bowels have to be thoroughly evacuated so doctors do not overlook any small, cancerous growths. A colonoscopy is recommended when you turn 50, or if there is a family history, the procedure should be performed 10 years before the affected first-degree relative was diagnosed.
“The most common symptom of colon cancer is actually no symptom whatsoever, which is what’s scary,” Dr. Rodriguez adds. “The intestines are built so that the nerves are on the outside, and it isn’t until the cancer eats through to the outside that you actually start having pain.”
Freddie Mercury: 1946 - 1991
Born Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town, Zanzibar, this music legend changed his name as his glam rock band, Queen, skyrocketed to fame and forever changed the world of rock music. In 1987, Freddie Mercury was reportedly diagnosed with HIV, an illness he did not reveal publicly until several years later, while on his deathbed. Twenty four hours after disclosing his HIV status in a press statement, the influential singer/songwriter passed away at the young age of 45.
Dr. Rodriguez, one of the founders of The American Academy of HIV Medicine, recalls how HIV/AIDS first became a pandemic in the U.S.
“We’ve come a long way. I remember in those days, in my practice, five or six patients were dying a week,” Dr. Rodriguez says.
Although the life expectancies of people diagnosed with HIV has increased substantially since the disease first became widespread, Dr. Rodriguez states that there are still 1 million people in the U.S. infected with HIV and more work needs to be done on the prevention front.
Symptoms of HIV, prior to late stage progression, are often none at all.
“That’s how it gets passed on because people don’t know. Most STDs, you don’t have any symptoms,” Dr. Lisa says.
“This is a slow virus,” Dr. Rodriguez explains. “It takes 20 years from the time you acquire it to the time your immune system is so debilitated that you start having symptoms. You could be a carrier of HIV for decades without any symptoms.”
The late stage symptoms of HIV/AIDS are similar to that of the common cold or flu virus, which may include fever, chronic diarrhea, weight loss and pneumonia.
“Freddie Mercury died from pneumonia that took him over because he didn’t have an adequate immune system,” Dr. Rodriguez says.
HIV Prevention Tips:
• Get tested and know your partner's status.
• Practice safe sex.
• Refrain from using or injecting illicit drugs.
“There is always, always, always time for a condom,” Dr. Lisa stresses.
A new HIV test has recently been approved by the FDA so people can test themselves in the privacy of their own homes.
Bob Marley: 1945 - 1981
Bob Marley was a Jamaican superstar who introduced the world to the spirit of reggae music. His music often focused on the power of perseverance and hope, a message that he truly believed, as he faced his own deadly foe – cancer. In 1977, a malignant lesion under his big toenail was discovered. Reportedly for religious reasons, he elected to use alternative medicines instead of conventional treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation. Despite his strong will, Marley’s melanoma spread to his lungs and brain, resulting in his untimely death at the age of 36.
Dr. Ordon explains how melanoma is the most lethal form of skin cancer, which arises from pigment cells and produces a darkish hue on the skin or, as in Marley’s case, under the nail bed.
“The take-home here is that you need to be your own advocate and study your skin,” Dr. Ordon says.
• Learn the ABCs of identifying and monitoring moles on the body.