10 Famous Olympic Athletes Diagnosed With Cancer

Cancer is an equal opportunity disease. Anyone can be diagnosed with cancer, even elite athletes. The following 10 people not only competed for the gold but also went toe-to-toe with cancer.

We hope these stories of famous athletes with cancer will inspire you, but anyone who copes with cancer is a hero in our book. Let's take a closer look!

1

Shannon Miller

1992 Summer Olympics - Games of the XXV Olympiad
Focus On Sport / Getty Images

Gold medal-winning gymnast Shannon Miller was diagnosed with an ovarian germ cell tumor after healthcare providers discovered a baseball-sized cyst on her ovary. Ovarian germ cell tumor is a rare type of ​ovarian cancer that often affects women under the age of 30. When detected early, these tumors are often treatable and curable.

Ovarian cancer has been coined the "silent killer" as the disease is often advanced when diagnosed. Every woman should be familiar with the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

The then 33-year-old mother of one underwent surgery and nine weeks of chemotherapy to treat the disease. She was described as cancer-free in a 2016 article published by the American Cancer Society.

Miller launched a women's health website, ​Shannon Miller Lifestyle, to share health tips through blog posts and articles written by experts.

2

Eric Shanteau

Eric Shanteau swimming

Feng Li / Getty Images

Shortly before the 2008 Olympic trials, Shanteau was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The then 24-year-old discovered a testicle lump and saw his healthcare provider at the urging of his girlfriend.

Around 9,000 men in the United States develop testicular cancer each year. The most common symptoms include a painless lump, heavy feeling, or collection of fluid in the scrotum.

Healthcare professionals recommended that the swimmer have surgery to remove the testicle immediately. However, Shanteau delayed the procedure to compete in the Olympic trials, ultimately nabbing a spot on the 2008 Olympic team.

3

Jake Gibb

Jake Gibb 2008

 Bjarteh / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

While many cancers are detected through medical screening tests, some cases are discovered unconventionally. This is undoubtedly the case with professional volleyball player Jake Gibb.

The Olympian failed a drug test that revealed abnormally high hormone levels that can indicate steroid use. He was advised to seek medical attention, as high hormone levels can also signify testicular cancer in men. Soon after failing the drug screening, the athlete was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent surgery to treat the disease.

Jake is actually a two-time cancer survivor, having fought off melanoma in 2004.

Reminder

The symptoms of cancer are often not obvious. If you have any abnormal symptoms - even symptoms that aren't "typical" of cancer, see your healthcare provider. If you aren't satisfied with their answer or don't feel your concerns have been addressed, get a second opinion.

4

Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel

 Michael Miller / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

In December 2006, NHL rookie Phil Kessel was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 19. The professional hockey forward underwent surgery and only missed 11 games. He later competed in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, helping Team USA earn a silver medal.

While most men with testicular cancer do not have any risk factors, those who have these risk factors should be even more careful about doing self-testicular exams.

5

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong

Haser / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 1.0

In 1996, cyclist Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had spread to his abdomen, lungs, and brain. Astonishingly, two years later, Armstrong was deemed cancer-free after undergoing extensive chemotherapy and surgery.

Before being diagnosed with cancer, Armstrong participated in the 1992 Olympic Games. He later competed again in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

6

Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova

Robbie Mendelson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

International tennis sensation Martina Navratilova was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, soon after a routine mammogram. Further investigation revealed she had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a non-invasive type of breast cancer. Navratilova underwent surgery and radiation therapy as treatment and remains cancer-free.

7

Scott Hamilton

Scott Hamilton

Photo from Amazon

In 1997, figure skater Scott Hamilton was diagnosed with testicular cancer. A year after surgery and chemotherapy, the gold medalist returned to the rink to skate professionally.

Hamilton often discusses his disease publicly, bringing much-needed awareness to the condition. He launched the Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative, an organization devoted to cancer research, patient education, and support for patients and their family members. As of 2020, Scott remains cancer-free and is active in the cancer community.

8

Meghan Kinney

US Meghan Kinney and Jilian Penner compete during the synchronised technical duet

Christophe Simon / Getty Images

Synchronized swimmer Meghan Kinney, an alternate for the 2008 Olympic Games, was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2010.

After experiencing knee pain, her healthcare provider discovered a tumor in her knee. The 21-year-old was diagnosed with ​osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer that usually affects teens and children.

Meghan underwent surgery and 10 months of chemotherapy as treatment. She launched a website, Team Meghan, to help cover the costs of care.

9

Diana Golden

26 Feb 1988: General view of the start of the 4 x 7.5 kilometres Biathlon event during the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada.

Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

Skier Diana Golden lost her right leg to cancer at the age of 12. But that didn't stop her dream of becoming a competitive athlete. Four years after she lost her leg, she was competing in her first U.S. Disabled Ski Championships. She went on to win a gold medal in giant slalom at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

Golden was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, and she had a bilateral mastectomy along with the removal of her uterus as treatment. The cancer returned in 1997. The skiing legend passed away from the disease in 2001 at age 38.

Of note is that in 1993, Golden attempted suicide. Though many people are unaware, the risk of suicide in cancer patients is over four times the average.

If you know anyone with cancer, it's important to understand the potential warning signs of suicide.

10

Mario Lemieux

Mario Lemieux

Tony McCune / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Hockey star Mario Lemieux was at the top of his game when diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1993. Lemieux underwent 29 days of radiation therapy as treatment. Today, his cancer remains in remission.

Mario founded the Mario Lemieux Foundation, an organization that raises funds for cancer research.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed
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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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