10 Famous Olympic Athletes Diagnosed With Cancer

Even famous athletes aren't immune to cancer. Cancer can develop in any person, even those in prime physical condition such as the 10 Olympic athletes on this list. These people not only competed for the gold but also worked to defeat cancer.

Cancer is an equal opportunity disease and doesn't discriminate, targeting the weak and strong, the rich and poor, alike.

We hope these stories of famous athletes with cancer will inspire you, but anyone who copes with cancer is a hero in our book.


Shannon Miller's Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis

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 doctors discovered a baseball-sized cyst on her ovary. 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.

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. Surgery and chemotherapy are the most common types of cancer treatment.

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.


Eric Shanteau's Testicular Treatment

Eric Shanteau swimming

Feng Li / Getty Images

Swimmer Eric Shanteau's cancer story is one of perseverance and dedication. A week before the 2008 Olympic trials, Shanteau was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The then 24-year-old discovered a testicle lump, and at the urging of his girlfriend, saw his doctor. Healthcare professionals recommended that the swimmer have surgery to remove the testicle immediately, but Shanteau delayed the procedure to compete in the Olympic trials, ultimately nabbing a spot on the 2008 Olympic team.

Eric remains vigilant about his follow-up screenings. Doctors found a recurrence in 2017, but according to a 2019 article in Swimming World, he is again cancer-free.

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.


Jake Gibb Battles Testicular Cancer

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 certainly 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 be a sign of testicular cancer in men. Not long 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 skin cancer in 2004.

This story reminds all of us that often times the symptoms of cancer are not obvious. If you have any symptoms which are unexplained, even if they are not "typical" symptoms of cancer, you need an explanation. Talk to your doctor or get a second opinion if needed.


Phil Kessel Takes on Testicular Cancer

Phil Kessel

 Michael Miller / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

In December 2006, NHL rookie Phil Kessel was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 19. The professional hockey forward underwent surgery, which cured his cancer. The treatment only set him back 11 professional games, and 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. Risk factors include having an undescended testicle, having a family history of testicular cancer, having been diagnosed with Klinefelter's syndrome, and being Caucasian.


Lance Armstrong Defeats Testicular Cancer

Lance Armstrong

Haser / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 1.0

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

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


Martina Navratilova Fights Breast Cancer

Martina Navratilova

Robbie Mendelson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

International tennis sensation Martina Navratilova's breast cancer was discovered after a routine mammogram in the spring of 2010. Further investigation revealed ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a non-invasive type of breast cancer. Navratilova underwent surgery and radiation therapy as treatment and remains cancer-free.

Prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer, Navratilova competed in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games but went home empty-handed.


Scott Hamilton Triumphs Over Testicular Cancer

Scott Hamilton

Photo from Amazon

In 1997, figure skater Scott Hamilton was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Hamilton often discussed his disease publicly, bringing much-needed awareness to the disease. A year after surgery and chemotherapy, the gold medalist returned to the rink to skate professionally.

Scott 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.


Meghan Kinney Faces Bone Cancer

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 the fall of 2010. The 21-year-old was training daily, preparing for the 2012 Olympics, in hopes of securing a spot on Team USA. Her diagnosis came after experiencing knee pain that she assumed would require surgery to treat. Doctors discovered a tumor in her knee, and she was diagnosed with ​osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer that usually affects teens and children. Adults are rarely diagnosed with the disease.

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


Diana Golden Succumbs to Breast Cancer

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 leg at age eight because of childhood cancer, but it didn't stop her dream of becoming a competitive athlete. After surgery to remove her leg and chemotherapy, she learned to ski with the help of the New England Handicapped Skiing Association. During college, she competed professionally, earning a spot on the US Disabled Team in 1979. In 1988, she competed in the Winter Olympics, earning a gold medal for the slalom disabled team. Even more impressive is that Golden competed successfully in many able-bodied competitions.

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 died of the disease in 2001 at the age of 38.

Of note is that in 1993, Golden attempted suicide. Though many people are unaware, the risk of suicide in cancer patients is over 4 times the average.

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


Mario Lemieux Confronts Hodgkin's Lymphoma

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 disease, a type of 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.

These foundations are making a difference. The survival rate has more than doubled between 1960 and 2017, with over 80 percent of people now surviving the disease.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Cancer Society. Lessons From the Olympics Help Shannon Miller Through Ovarian Cancer Treatment. Published September 2, 2016.

  2. American Cancer Society. What Is Ovarian Cancer? Updated April 11, 2018.

  3. Swimming World. Eric Shanteau Reflects on Testicular Cancer Battle. Published February 7, 2019.

  4. National Cancer Institute. Cancer Stat Facts: Testicular Cancer.

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  6. American Cancer Society. Risk factors for testicular cancer. Updated May 17, 2018.

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