Mesothelioma Patient Stories:
Hollywood Legend's Death Caused by Mesothelioma
The average post-diagnostic survival time of malignant mesothelioma sufferers is between one to two years. Traditional mesothelioma treatments have had limited success in eradicating the disease and minimal success in extending patients' survival time. Mesothelioma sufferers are looking for new and experimental treatment options through which to beat the disease that has thus far been incurable.
Twenty-five years ago, malignant mesothelioma took the life of Hollywood legend Steve McQueen. McQueen is remembered for his roles in such movie classics as "The Great Escape," "The Sand Pebbles," "Bullitt," "The Getaway," and "Papillon." What few people realize is that the superstar's life was cut short at the age of 50 by the asbestos-related disease.
The development of mesothelioma is related to asbestos exposure. A patient's history of asbestos exposure can range from short-term to long-term prior to the development of mesothelioma. Malignant mesothelioma is a highly-aggressive cancer that can rapidly metastasize (grow/spread) in patients, limiting post-diagnosis survival time.
McQueen had been surrounded by asbestos all of his life. As a young adult, McQueen was employed in the construction industry, where asbestos was often present at job sites. While serving as a Marine, McQueen worked at shipyards where he was responsible for stripping asbestos off the pipes used in naval ships (asbestos was used in the insulation of modern ships built before 1976). It has also been suggested that McQueen, an avid car racer, may have been exposed to asbestos when repairing the brake linings of race cars and/or wearing the protective helmets and driving suits associated with the sport.
McQueen developed a chronic cough in 1978 and had difficulty breathing on a movie set the following year. McQueen barely ran 15 yards during the filming of an action sequence before requesting oxygen assistance. Later in 1979, doctors diagnosed him with mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs related to asbestos exposure.
The chief of oncology at a prominent hospital in Los Angeles told McQueen that he contracted a high-grade malignancy of mesothelioma. He was told that such a cancer could be virulent, spreading from his lungs to other organs throughout his body. The oncologist knew of no patient who had been cured of mesothelioma. After the gloomy prognosis, McQueen's doctor treated him with radiation therapy to try to shrink the tumor.
Frustrated by the results from his treatments, McQueen met with Dr. William D. Kelley, an orthodontist who had devised a controversial treatment regimen to cure his own pancreatic cancer. The treatment was based on the notion that cancers arose and grew from a lack of enough pancreatic enzymes.
At the time he was diagnosed in 1979, McQueen's doctors told him that there was no cure for malignant mesothelioma. They ruled against mesothelioma chemotherapy and surgery as treatment options, leaving McQueen with no choice but to seek out alternative treatments. In July of 1980, McQueen traveled to Rosarita Beach, Mexico, to be treated in clinic by doctors using Dr. Kelley's regimen. He underwent a torturous three-month regimen that involved fetal animal injections, laetrile treatments (controversial drug made from apricot pits), ingestion of over 100 vitamins per day, coffee enemas, massages, and spiritual sessions.
In October of 1980, McQueen was encouraged by the improvement of his condition. He publicly thanked Mexico for showing the world a new alternative to treat cancer and for saving his life.
McQueen's resurrection was short-lived. In November of 1980, doctors operated to remove cancerous masses from McQueen's abdomen and neck. McQueen survived the surgery, but he died the next day.
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[Page updated March 2006]