Health Diaries > Celebrity Health

So Is Farrah Fawcett Cured?

There are two definite answers to this question: 1) we hope so; and 2) we don't know. The recent news that the actress has "kicked" her cancer was welcomed by both her fans and fellow cancer survivors. But as any cancer specialist will tell you, it is a mistake to announce cancer cures before five years and, for certain cancers, before ten or even fifteen years.

One problem in assessing Farrah's case is that we are not exactly sure what she has. Like many celebrities, she has given only a partial disclosure of her illness. The best guess is that she has anal cancer, which is what her ex-husband, Ryan O' Neal, announced to the media. But even if this is the case, we do not know what stage of anal cancer she has. The most localized and treatable anal cancers, stage I and stage II, have a much better prognosis than those, stage III and stage IV, that have spread to nearby lymph nodes or beyond.

We know that Farrah received both chemotherapy and radiation. This suggests that her cancer was stage II or higher, although at times such aggressive therapy is given to stage I lesions. Nevertheless, even if she had a stage I or II anal cancer, the five-year survival for such cases is not 100% but 80%.

Farrah's doctor announced that she has had "a full and complete response to treatment" and that her prognosis is excellent. But this is not the same as either a cure or having beaten one's cancer. Only time will tell if this is the case.

Barron H. Lerner, MD, PhD
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
Author of "When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine" (Johns Hopkins, 2006)

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