Celebrities Who Battled Cancer and Won
These famous figures were faced with the fight of their lives and emerged victorious.
When it comes to Hollywood stars and other celebrity figures, it can be easy to forget that they are people like everyone else. Sure, they have unparalleled fame and wealth, but they also have issues with their families, have been in failed relationships, and struggled with health problems. No more so is that evident than in the recent and untimely death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, who died on Aug. 28 from colon cancer at just 43 years old. And Boseman was not alone in his struggle with cancer among the Hollywood community. In fact, many famous figures have dealt with serious, life-threatening medical conditions over the years—often while their careers were thriving. Thankfully, in many cases, the outcomes are not always as tragic as Boseman's sadly was. Here are some of the biggest celebrities who beat cancer. And for more on a health condition diagnosed in a number of iconic artists, check out Celebrities Who Are on the Autism Spectrum.
Ben Stiller credits the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test with saving his life. While the American Cancer Society recommends that men at average risk for the disease start getting screened at age 50, Stiller was 46 when his doctor recommended he get tested. And it's a good thing he did. The actor was subsequently diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014 and then underwent surgery three months after to remove the tumor. He has been cancer-free ever since.
"The bottom line for me: I was lucky enough to have a doctor who gave me what they call a 'baseline' PSA test when I was about 46," Still wrote in an essay he published online in 2016. "I have no history of prostate cancer in my family and I am not in the high-risk group … I had no symptoms." The comedian added: "If he had waited, as the American Cancer Society recommends, until I was 50, I would not have known I had a growing tumor until two years after I got treated." And for more on another famous figure's battle with a life-threatening illness, check out 4 Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer Alex Trebek Wished He'd Known Sooner.
The late 2010s were a hard time for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, even though she was having success on screen as the lead on Veep (the hilariously irreverent HBO series that showcased her comedic abilities perhaps even better than her breakout role as Elaine on Seinfeld). Louis-Dreyfus's father died in September 2016 and a year later she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer, which led to a brutal six rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy. The outcome was positive and Louis-Dreyfus is currently cancer-free, but she's still a bit hesitant to accept that as the end of her story. "I'm still working it out, to be honest with you," she told Vanity Fair in August 2019. "I'm glad I got through it, but there's a part of me that's still a little frightened, you know?" And for more on this particular disease, check out 17 Subtle Signs You May Have Breast Cancer.
In 2008, while promoting the film Deception, Scottish actor Ewan McGregor was encouraged by his doctor to have few suspicious moles on his face looked at by a specialist. It turns out at least one of them was concerning enough to be removed and turned out to be skin cancer. The Trainspotting and Star Wars star is fine now, but cautions people to have any odd looking or new moles looked at by a dermatologist immediately—especially those who have a similarly fair skin tone.
"You have to be careful if you're pale-skinned and spend any time in the sun," McGregor told the BBC in 2008 following the incident. "I went to see a specialist who thought they were better to be removed, and indeed he was correct." And for more on this often subtle, but serious disease, check out 27 Skin Cancer Facts Doctors Wish You Knew About.
Like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Christina Applegate, star of Netflix series Dead to Me, underwent a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. Since then, Applegate has been cancer-free and founded the Right Action for Women, an organization that helps at-risk women pay for MRI screenings and testing, she told Today in 2017. In addition to living a healthy lifestyle, in order to help prevent the cancer from returning, Applegate also made the decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.
As an award-winning journalist and longtime anchor of ABC's Good Morning America, Robin Roberts established herself as a familiar face and trustworthy news source in homes across the country. But after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis in 2007 and then, just five years later, finding out she had a rare blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), Roberts came to represent something even more personal and powerful, handling her excruciating battle with a kind of grace and resilience that continues to inspire millions to take control of their own health.
When asked how she was doing in a 2018 interview with Cure magazine, Roberts said: "Strong like bull! I'm not one of those people who use the word 'remission,' but I'm grateful that at this point there is nothing detectable. I get my regular checkups, and I just love that I feel like myself again. It took quite a few years." And for more helpful health information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.