Farrah Fawcett's Battle With Anal Cancer

Farrah Fawcett, star of TV's "Charlie's Angels," died on June 25, 2009, after a three-year battle with cancer. Fawcett, who lived her life in the spotlight, gained renown as the face of cancer as she provided a highly publicized account of her three-year journey.

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In September 2006, Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer, a rare form of the disease which affects only around 8,300 Americans each year.

Following her diagnosis, Fawcett began an aggressive course of radiation treatment and chemotherapy, both standard treatments for anal cancer. She issued this statement soon after her diagnosis stating that she was "determined to bite the bullet and fight the fight" while going undergoing six weeks of "cutting-edge, state-of-the-art" treatment.

After completion, the actress was reportedly in good spirits and optimistic about her future. Five months later, Farrah was declared cancer-free.

It was only a few months later, during a routine follow-up, that a malignant polyp was found, indicating cancer had returned. It was considered a crushing blow for Fawcett.

Shortly after in 2007, Fawcett sought alternative treatment in Frankfurt, Germany, which combined chemotherapy and non-conventional healing remedies. Despite remaining private about her treatment and prognosis, Fawcett agreed to film her journey for NBC special for a reported $2 million.

Alternative Treatment

It was eventually learned that Fawcett had declined surgery and opted to continue treatment in Germany even as cancer spread to her liver.

Among the treatments prescribed by Fawcett's specialists, Professor Thomas Vogl and Dr. Ursula Jacob, were rounds of chemoablation (which involves injecting chemicals into affected organs), laser ablation (which heats a tumor to 100 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the cancer cells), and a steady course of "immune boosting" vitamins.

Upon returning home in April 2009, Fawcett checked herself into a Los Angeles hospital, igniting rumors that she was on her deathbed. According to Farrah's physician, Dr. Lawrence Piro, Farrah was admitted not because of her cancer but due to complications arising from her treatment in Germany. Piro later revealed that Fawcett had experienced a blood clot in the muscles of her abdomen, likely from the repeated injections she had given to her liver.

In her documentary, Farrah's Story, the actress described her disillusionment with the German clinic.

Some of the procedures used were put into doubt by oncologists who questioned Vogl and Jacob's use of laser ablation as a "curative" technique when it employed more for palliative (pain-relieving) purposes in Fawcett's stage of the disease.

Similarly, chemosensitivity tests (an otherwise outdated procedure) and claims about the "immune boosting" properties of vitamins cast a long shadow over the reputation of the Frankfurt-based duo.

Ultimately what is clear is that Fawcett made a choice. The standard procedure following the recurrence of anal cancer is the removal of the anus and rectum, a surgery that would have left Fawcett with a colostomy for life. This was something that the TV star clearly could not bear.

Fawcett died at a Santa Monica hospital with her longtime love interest, Ryan O'Neal, by her side. She was 62. She was survived by O'Neal and their son, Redmond O'Neal.

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  1. American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Anal Cancer. Updated November 13, 2017.

  2. American Cancer Society. Treatment of Anal Cancer, by Stage. Updated November 13, 2017.