The Host with the Most
- Entertainer Ed Sullivan died 47 years ago today of esophageal cancer. He was diagnosed at an advanced stage just a month before he passed at 73 years old.
- The longtime variety host’s Ed Sullivan Show ran from 1948 to 1971, and changed the landscape of American television.
- The cause of most esophageal cancers is unknown, though some risk factors, like tobacco use, can increase the likelihood of getting this cancer.
He was diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease just a month before he passed at 73 years old.Read More
The longtime variety host’s Ed Sullivan Show—which was originally titled Toast of the Town—ran from 1948 to 1971, drawing millions of viewers. The show changed the scope of American television, presenting the biggest stars of rock, pop, soul, R&B and comedy.
Born in Harlem, Sullivan started off as a gossip columnist and worked in news, then later broke into TV the year before his hit Sunday night show debuted. He had produced Vaudeville shows in New York and had gained some attention organizing large benefits at Madison Square Garden during World War II for organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Army Emergency Relief. Shortly after, he was hosting televised benefits, which ultimately led to his own show.
CBS dropped the show in 1971 to air movies instead during the time slot. Up until then, the ironically “stone-faced and humorless” emcee had hosted stars like Elvis Presley and Jack Benny, along with bands such as The Beatles, The Doors, and The Rolling Stones.
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In 1963, Sullivan and the show producers were hip on The Beatles and the wave that they were creating. Sullivan wanted his show to be the English quartet’s first televised appearance in the States, and on February 9th, 1964, the Beatles did indeed, perform live on his show, making music history. At Studio 50 in New York, the band opened their first live performance set with All My Loving, Till There Was You and She Loves You.
They returned to the show three more times, and the four appearances cumulatively brought in a quarter of a billion viewers.
Another one of the most famous moments in rock ‘n’ roll history was when The Doors’ singer Jim Morrison refused to change his song lyrics for a cleaner version of Light My Fire on Sullivan’s show. Morrison performed the song unedited. After the show, Sullivan said that they would never do the show again, and Morrison “calmly” replied, “We just did the Sullivan Show.”
Sullivan originally did not want Elvis on his show because his pelvic thrusts were deemed too controversial, but due to the King’s appearance on Steve Allen, a competitor, Sullivan gave in.
Understanding Esophageal Cancer
The esophagus is a tube that runs from the throat to the stomach, and cancer cells can form inside the tissues of this organ, which is an important part of your digestive system. Esophageal cancer is more common among men than women. The risk for men in the U.S. is 1 in 125, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). In 2021, there will be approximately 19,260 new esophageal cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S.
This cancer makes up only 1% of cancers diagnosed in the U.S., and is more common in China and India. Survival rates for esophageal cancer have improved over the years as treatments for the disease have advanced.
Some people confuse esophageal cancer and throat cancer. The ACS reports that the cause of most esophageal cancers is unknown (though some risk factors, like tobacco use, can increase the likelihood of getting this cancer). Whereas human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus is a known cause of throat cancer. Esophageal cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Dr. Brendon Stiles, chief of thoracic surgery at Montefiore Medical Center, says esophageal cancer is one of the cancers with “one of the lowest cure rates out there.”
“But like many cancers, if we find it early, we can often treat it effectively. Either with surgery, or surgery and chemotherapy—surgery, chemotherapy and radiation sometimes,” Stiles says. “My message to patients is the same as it is for most cancers, try to get diagnosed early.”
For esophageal cancers, that means getting an endoscopy if you have any symptoms. An endoscopy is the use of a camera attached to a long, thin tube to look into the esophagus.
Esophageal Cancer: Signs to Look Out For
The problem with this cancer is it can mimic other diseases. According to Dr. Stiles, symptoms include weight loss, difficulty swallowing and heartburn. Although symptoms like heartburn can often be nothing, it’s always best to get checked to rule out something more serious. The more aware you are, the more persistent you can be with your doctor if you feel there is something not right.
Hope for Esophageal Cancer
There have been two recent immunotherapy drugs approved for esophageal cancer — nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) — both drugs showed promising study results, and Keytruda showed the most effectiveness earlier in the course of the disease.
“Immunotherapies are being tested not only in metastatic patients, but also in earlier settings combined with chemotherapy,” Dr. Rutika Mehta, medical oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL, tells SurvivorNet. “These immunotherapies have a survival benefit.”
Normally the immune system finds and destroys cancer cells, just as it does bacteria, viruses, and other threats. But when cancers invade the body, they have a sneaky way of preventing the immune system from finding them—they block certain receptors on immune cells.
“Immunotherapy helps to reset that balance,” Dr. Mehta says. “It helps to unblock the receptors on immune cells that the cancer cells are blocking.” Essentially, this “resets” the immune cells so they can fight the cancer.
Some esophageal cancers respond better to immunotherapy than others. Squamous cell cancers are more responsive to this treatment because they already contain a lot of immune cells to activate. These are referred to as “hot tumors.”
Immunotherapy doesn’t work as well against adenocarcinomas, which make up the majority of esophageal cancers, because they’re lower in immune cells. These are known as “cold tumors.”
“They need special effort to get the immune system activated to kill cancer cells,” Dr. Mehta says.
Treatment Options for Esophageal Cancer