McQueen's Mesothelioma Battle
- Steve McQueen died in 1980 at just 50 years old from cancer-related complications; McQueen had mesothelioma, a tumor of the tissue that lines the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs.
- Not all cases of mesothelioma are cancerous, but McQueen’s was.
- Treatment options for malignant pleural mesothelioma include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and the NovoTTF-100L System.
The surgery performed on McQueen was to remove cancerous tumors from his neck, and stomach and the tumors were sizeable. One weighed in at 5 pounds. In the original report of his death, his doctor, a surgeon and kidney specialist named Dr. Santos said, “If it hadn’t been for the heart failure, I believe something could have been done to make his remaining days more pleasant.” The El Paso Times wrote, “Santos said McQueen might have lived another two or three months if he had not undergone an operation. The Juarez doctors removed a 5-pound tumor from the ailing actor’s abdomen.”
McQueen’s cancer “caused him serious pains,” his surgeon said. It was reported that the actor opted for surgery due to his “intolerable pain,” said Dr. Santos. McQueen used sedatives to combat the pain caused by his cancer.
Current Therapies for Mesothelioma
Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are three main treatment options for the disease McQueen had. And in May 2019, a new treatment was approved from the FDA: NovoTTF-100L System. This device can be used with a standard, two-drug chemotherapy to treat patients who have malignant pleural mesothelioma.
NovoTTF-100L uses electric fields that are tuned to frequencies which “disrupt” solid tumor cancer cell division. And the device is effective, too. Researchers found that the median survival rate for people treated with NovoTTF-100L plus chemotherapy was over 18 months, which extended the life expectancy for the malignant pleural mesothelioma patient population. The development of this system comes as a relief to patients with the disease, as it widens options considerably. The NovoTTF-100L System has been called a “crucial development” for people with pleural mesothelioma.
Mary Hesdorffer, the executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, said “only 10 to 20% of patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma are eligible for surgery to remove a tumor…Typically, mesothelioma patients who cannot have surgery receive palliative care to mitigate their symptoms. NovoTTF-100L provides unresectable (malignant pleural mesothelioma) patients with a treatment option that may improve survival. We are encouraged by the FDA approval and hope it is just the beginning of innovation in the treatment of this aggressive disease.”
Greater odds of survival are welcome news for all in the cancer community; while we lost McQueen far too soon, we are heartened to hear treatment of this disease is progressing.
Losing A Parent
McQueen was a married father of two when he passed away (though he reportedly was not the most amiable husband and caregiver). Losing a parent is never easy, and finding ways to cope with grief can help ease the sense of loss (or, at least, make it manageable). Camila Legaspi lost her mom to breast cancer when she was in high school, and she told SurvivorNet that the tragedy of losing a parent as a teenager defined her high school experience.
“I actually took this sadness and let it motivate me,” Legaspi told SurvivorNet. “I learned that it’s OK to be sad sometimes. It’s OK to carry sadness with you … it’s not always a bad thing. It makes you who you are and it gives you a story to tell and it helps you teach other people to cope with their sadness.”