While celebrities may make headlines with more than just their diagnosis, they often use their fame to raise awareness for testing, treatment, and underrepresented populations.
While the statistics can tell us that the overall risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer in her life is 13%, anyone with experience knows the reality is that women and men of varying ages, backgrounds, and careers can find themselves facing a breast cancer diagnosis. This includes celebrities.
Many famous people have been diagnosed with breast cancer throughout the years. Some have opted to maintain as much privacy as possible while many have shared their stories in the hopes of helping others. A few have even opted to become advocates, working to improve outcomes for anyone diagnosed with breast cancer. What follows are a few names you may recognize.
Best known as the father of Beyoncé and Solange Knowles, Mathew Knowles announced in October 2019 that he’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. During an interview with Good Morning America’s Michael Strahan, Knowles said he suspected something was wrong when he discovered dots of blood on his shirt.
A year after revealing his diagnosis, he penned an op-ed about the experience and changes he would like to see.
Knowles encouraged others to consider their health proactively and seek out genetic testing. He’s a BRCA2 gene mutation carrier, which he didn’t discover until after undergoing a mastectomy.
The BRCA2 (breast cancer 2) gene is one of two hereditary genes most commonly associated with breast cancer. When these genes function normally, they help protect against breast cancer. When a mutation occurs in one of these genes, it puts you at a higher risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other types of cancer.
About 3% of breast cancer cases and 10% of ovarian cancer cases occur due to a mutation in one of these genes.
He’s also advocated for more inclusion for males who are diagnosed, preferring to use the term “male chest cancer” in order to address some of the aversion diagnosed men may feel when it comes to receiving a diagnosis and treatment in a predominately female-centric field. Males make up a minority of breast cancer cases with about 2,100 men diagnosed a year compared to 240,000 females.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus shaped her performance skills on Saturday Night Live and as Elaine on “Seinfeld.” Since then, she has appeared in several shows, including “Veep” where she earned a seventh Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
In September 2017, she announced on Twitter that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. An image posted features the callout, “One in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one.”
She went on to explain the need for better healthcare and coverage, “The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends, and fantastic insurance through my union. The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let’s fight all cancers and make universal healthcare a reality.”
Louis-Dreyfus underwent a double mastectomy and 6 rounds of chemo before announcing she was cancer-free roughly a year later.
Actress Shannen Doherty has been featured in many shows and movies but is best known for her roles in “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Charmed.”
Doherty was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. In 2017, she reported that following a mastectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy, her cancer was in remission.
Unfortunately, in 2020 she revealed the cancer had returned. In 2023 she shared an emotional post to Instagram revealing that her stage IV breast cancer was appearing as “mets” in her brain. This means that her cancer metastasized in her brain tissue.
In another Instagram post, Doherty said, “I hope I encourage people to get mammograms, to get regular checkups, to cut thru the fear and face whatever might be in front of you.”
Tig Notaro is a female comedian known for her dry sense of humor and wit.
In 2012, Notaro was informed that the lumps she’d felt in both breasts were cancerous. For treatment, she underwent a double mastectomy.
She spoke with PBS about her experiences, including the lack of connection she felt to the idea of being brave and how she decided to address her diagnosis directly in her comedy special as a means of reaching out and healing.
She also shared, “When I had a double mastectomy, I didn’t have reconstructive surgery, and I don’t have nipples. And it was — you know, it was a struggle getting comfortable with myself. But when I really thought about how it was just my skin growing together with my skin and healing me, why is that uncomfortable or shameful or embarrassing or something to hide?”
In 2011, actress and comedian Wanda Sykes told Ellen DeGeneres during an interview, “I had both breasts removed, because now I have zero chance of having breast cancer.”
Prior to the double mastectomy, her doctor found ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or stage 0 cancer in her left breast during a breast reduction. She chose the aggressive treatment option to greatly reduce future risk due to a family history of breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, having a double mastectomy does not entirely remove the chances of developing cancer in the future, but it does reduce your risk by about 90% or more. People with a history of breast cancer in one breast or a strong hereditary history of breast cancer may be good candidates for a prophylactic mastectomy.
Joan Lunden, a former host of “Good Morning America,” shared the news of her breast cancer diagnosis in 2014 on her personal website.
Lunden shared that her routine mammogram showed no evidence of cancer. However, due to dense, fibrous tissue in her breasts, she had a follow-up ultrasound that showed cancer in her right breast. Following the ultrasound, a core biopsy confirmed the diagnosis.
In an interview with People magazine, Lunden discussed her treatment, including 16 rounds of chemotherapy, 6 weeks of radiation, and a lumpectomy. She also reflected on appearing on the front cover of the magazine with her head bald. While she initially questioned whether it was the right move, she noted that doing so changed her “from a patient into an advocate” and positively affected her cancer journey.
Singer and songwriter Sheryl Crow discovered she had DCIS in 2006 after a routine mammogram. In an op-ed she wrote for People magazine in 2022, Crow reflected on how she’d almost skipped the appointment because she was busy. She encouraged others to make and keep routine appointments for screening in order to increase early detection.
Crow has spoken openly about how cancer changed her life and outlook. She encourages others to take action, practice self-care activities like meditation, and make lifestyle changes, like eating a better diet.
Actress Christina Applegate, whose most recent work includes Netflix’s “Dead to Me” series, discovered breast cancer in her left breast in 2008. While she’d been getting mammograms since age 30 because of family history, her doctor recommended an MRI due to her dense breast tissue and the results of that test led to a biopsy revealing cancer.
Initially, she underwent a lumpectomy and radiation, but after testing positive for BRCA she later had a double mastectomy to reduce the risk of recurrence or cancer in her other breast.
More recently, Applegate told the press about her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS). MS affects the central nervous system and causes several potential symptoms, such as brain fog, coordination issues, loss of balance, and others.
Miranda McKeon is an actress best known for her role as Josie Pye in the Netflix television series “Anne with an E.”
In 2021, after discovering a lump in her breast, the 19-year-old went in for an ultrasound and biopsy. The diagnosis of Stage 3 cancer led her and her doctors to a plan for chemotherapy, surgery, and then radiation.
McKeon has kept fans updated on her journey through her personal blog. Through her writing there she has shared her experience with harvesting her eggs, the side effects of the medications for breast cancer treatment, and the effect of the breast cancer journey on her mental health, among other things.
Grammy Award-winning singer, actress, and activist, Olivia Newton-John first received a breast cancer diagnosis in 1992. Her treatment began with a partial mastectomy and chemotherapy.
In subsequent years, the cancer returned twice. In 2013, it returned, metastasizing in her shoulder. In 2017, it was discovered to be metastasizing in her lower spine.
According to a recent study from 2021 that tracked close to 36,000 women with breast cancer, recurrence can occur up to 32 years after primary diagnosis.
While many survivors of other cancer types are considered in the clear after about 5 years post-treatment cancer free, a person who survives breast cancer continues to have a chance of recurrence well past this time. The study found that women with a “high lymph node burden, large tumor size, and estrogen receptor-positive tumors” were at increased risk of late recurrence.
Newton-John spoke openly about her 30-year journey with breast cancer before her death on August 8, 2022. Her lasting legacy in the field can be seen in many areas, including the work done by the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre.
Well known for her role as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter movies, the knighted English actress discovered she had cancer during the filming of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”
During filming, she underwent chemotherapy, which caused her to lose her hair. Despite the negative effects of treatment, she continued filming and told interviewers she felt “horribly sick. I was holding on to railings, thinking ‘I can’t do this’.”
Food Network star Sandra Lee discovered she had multiple DCIS tumors in 2015. Due to the risk of developing breast cancer in either breast, she decided to have a double mastectomy to significantly reduce her risk.
She explained to interviewers that part of her decision to get a double mastectomy involved her grandmother’s experience with breast cancer. Her grandmother successfully treated the cancer for years only to have it return.
Actress Suzanne Somers found out she had breast cancer in 2000. Her treatment included a lumpectomy and radiation, but she opted not to have reconstructive surgery at that time.
Instead, she later opted for an experimental treatment to reconstruct her breast using a procedure known as cell-assisted lipotransfer. As part of the process fat grafts containing stem cells harvested from her body were used in the breast area.
In a 2018 interview, she lauded the success of the treatment and her happiness with her regrown breast. Since then, she has advocated for the use of nontraditional treatment options for breast cancer survivors.
Peter Criss, who was a drummer for the rock band KISS, found a lump in his chest after a workout in 2007. While the doctors initially thought it was simply a harmless nodule, it was found to be cancerous. Another surgery was done to remove all the cancerous tissue.
The cancer had not yet spread, so he didn’t need additional treatment for doctors to determine he was cancer free.
It wasn’t until after his surgeries were complete that he decided to share his experience with the world. He has encouraged other men to be aware and to see their doctor with concerns. He has said, “Don’t sit around playing Mr. Tough Guy. Don’t say ‘It’s going to go away.'”
Cynthia Nixon, known for her role as Miranda on “Sex and the City,” shared that she was diagnosed with cancer after a routine mammogram. She underwent a lumpectomy and radiation to treat the cancer.
She has discussed the importance of routine mammograms in her work as a spokesperson for Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. Due to her family history — her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was young — Nixon began early mammograms.
She credits her proactive approach as the reason her cancer was caught early.
Best known for her role on the TV series “Charlie’s Angels,” Jaclyn Smith discovered she had breast cancer in 2002. Like others, she treated the cancer with a lumpectomy and radiation.
In an interview with CNN, she noted that the most important aspect of her care was having a good group of girlfriends surround and support her. She attributes their involvement as part of her overall successful treatment.
Hoda Kotb was a journalist and correspondent for “Dateline NBC” when she received a breast cancer diagnosis in 2007. She underwent a mastectomy and hormone therapy for treatment.
At first, she was reluctant to tell others about her diagnosis. She attributed the cancer’s discovery and treatment to luck. Her gynecologist discovered the cancer after she did not get a routine mammogram.
Her path to advocacy began after she encountered a stranger on a flight who encouraged her to share her story with others.
Actress Rita Wilson discovered she had invasive lobular carcinoma in 2015. With the support of her husband, Tom Hanks, she underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
This type of breast cancer is the second most common form. The name derives from the fact that it starts in the lobules that produce milk and has spread to nearby tissue (invasive).
Janice Dickinson, former supermodel and reality TV star, found a small lump in her breast in 2016 that turned out to be DCIS.
Her treatment consisted of 2 lumpectomies and 2 months of radiation.
She decided to keep her breast implants in place during the treatment, People magazine reported, which would have no impact on her treatment. Several studies have shown no correlation between breast implants and increased risk of breast cancer.
Kathy Bates is an Oscar-winning actress who received a breast cancer diagnosis in 2012. She underwent a double mastectomy following diagnosis.
She developed a complication called lymphedema. Lymphedema causes a buildup of lymph node fluid in the body, particularly the arms or legs. It’s a possible complication of different cancer treatments, including radiation and surgery to remove tumors.
She has since become an advocate of lymphedema awareness.
Medically reviewed on August 29, 2023
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