15 Celebrities With Breast Cancer Share Their Experience
According to the Breast Cancer Organization, nearly 281,500 women in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2021. In the same time period, an additional estimated 49,290 are expected to be diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer.
If you or someone you love has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, know that you’re far from alone. Many other women of all ages, races, and backgrounds face this scary diagnosis, including celebrities who are known for acting, singing, designing, or reporting the news. These 15 celebrities chose to make their story public in hopes of comforting and inspiring many others going through similar struggles.
15 Female Celebrities Who Have Or Had Breast Cancer
These celebrities may all come from different corners of Hollywood, but a breast cancer diagnosis -- and a public battle against the disease -- bring them together. These 15 celebrities famously grappled with their diagnosis in front of colleagues and fans alike.
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Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts discovered something unusual while preparing for a news story in 2007. The segment discussed why it’s important to conduct early breast cancer screenings, and as she did her own self-breast examination, Roberts found a lump. After going to the doctor for a biopsy, she was told she was in the early stages of breast cancer. She then underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, all while continuing to focus on her career at ABC.
Roberts shared her journey on television, encouraging viewers to go to regular screenings, check their breasts at home, and donate to breast cancer-related causes. She wrote a book reflecting on her experiences and the support she received from family and friends, titled Everybody’s Got Something, in 2014.
Shannen Doherty (Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Former Beverly Hills 90210 star Shannen Doherty famously gave the world an intimate look into her cancer treatment regimen. Doherty, who is currently battling stage 4 breast cancer, uses her Instagram platform with nearly 2 million followers to raise awareness -- both for breast cancer itself, and the physical and emotional toll treatment can take.
Doherty was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, when she underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. She went into remission in 2017, but the cancer returned in 2020, and she still grapples with it today. However, despite her cancer returning, Doherty regularly shares snippets of her at work, living life to the fullest even while undergoing treatment.
Well known for roles in TV shows like The Office and American Horror Story and her iconic performance in the movie Misery, Bates was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003 and breast cancer in 2012. Those who have had ovarian cancer are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer later on.
Bates underwent a double mastectomy after her breast cancer diagnosis. After her procedure, she developed lymphedema, a blockage in her lymphatic system that causes lymph fluid buildup and swelling.
Kathy Bates leverages her fame to urge women to stay on top of their health. In a recent interview on The Kelly Clarkson Show, she shared her experience undergoing a double mastectomy, and also shared that she tested negative for the BRCA gene that increases the likelihood of developing both cancers. She’s also a spokesperson for the Lymphatic Education and Research Network.
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Co-anchor for the NBC Today Show Hoda Kotb was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 43, after her doctor discovered lumps during a routine breast exam. She underwent a mastectomy to address her cancer, and she has been in remission ever since.
Before her diagnosis, Kotb hadn’t received a mammogram before, a decision that she has described as not a smart one. She regularly advises folks to get checked as soon as they can.
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In 2011, actress and comedian Wanda Sykes underwent a breast reduction procedure and learned afterward that the medical team discovered ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in her left breast. DCIS are cells in the milk duct of the breast that turn cancerous but have yet to spread to the rest of the breast tissue. This early stage of breast cancer is easily treatable by removing the cells, but they do present the risk of returning, requiring lots of doctor’s visits and screenings. Armed with this information, Sykes opted for a bilateral mastectomy to minimize her chances of developing breast cancer. For Sykes, a bilateral mastectomy was a life-saving procedure.
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Amid her split with Lance Armstrong in 2006, singer Sheryl Crow was diagnosed with DCIS and stage 1 breast cancer. At the age of 44, Crow underwent a lumpectomy in both breasts and radiation therapy. She has been in remission since.
Nowadays, Crow advocates for women prioritizing their health above all else so they can catch anything unusual or potentially dangerous in its early stages. She also stresses the importance of self-care routines like meditation to help with the mental burden of cancer, as well as finding a network of supportive friends, family, and other folks who are undergoing cancer treatment. She has also recently partnered with Genius 3D Mammography to raise awareness for their more comfortable mammography procedures.
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Julia Louis-Dreyfus credits her family and closest friends for helping her get through her toughest battle to date: Stage II breast cancer. Just one day after winning an Emmy for her role as Selina Meyer in Veep, the actor and comedian got the call that she had cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy in addition to six rounds of chemo. After around a year of treatment, she took to social media to announce that she is cancer-free, returning to set to complete Veep shortly after.
After treatment, Julia Louis-Dreyfus starred in Saks Fifth Avenue’s 20th Key to the Cure breast cancer campaign. All proceeds from that campaign went directly to AiRS – the Alliance in Reconstructive Surgery Foundation.
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Maggie Smith, well known for her role as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series, underwent cancer treatment while filming Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. While filming in 2008, Smith, 73 at the time, underwent both chemo and radiation therapy for a treatment regimen that lasted around two years. Despite the challenges of working long days while undergoing intense treatment, Smith continued to commit time and energy into her role. Now 86 and cancer free, Smith still shows no slowing down as she stars as Violet Crawley in Downton Abbey.
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World renown fashion designer Betsey Johnson recalls her cancer story with an interesting choice of words: “The funniest ever.” She discovered she had breast cancer in 1999 when one of her silicone breast implants “popped” while getting a massage. After removing her implants, she discovered a half-pea size lump along the surgical scar tissue, which doctors later confirmed was cancerous.
For months, she kept her breast cancer a secret. She later made a public announcement at one of her runway shows, where she took the mic and shared her story. Now, Betsey Johnson uses her talents and fame to raise awareness and funds for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
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ABC News anchor Amy Robach received a mammogram live on air during an episode of Good Morning America. That demonstration proved vital for Robach, 40 at the time, who learned that the results of her mammogram required a follow up appointment. A few hours later, she learned she had breast cancer. Robach underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy, and is now in remission.
Since entering remission, Robach has committed to lifestyle changes that may help minimize the chance that her cancer could come back. She advocates for a healthy diet and an active lifestyle to help best support well-being.
While nearly 80% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women over 45, actress Christina Applegate was diagnosed at the age of 36. Because there was a history of breast cancer in her family, Applegate opted for a double mastectomy and oophorectomy, which is a removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes. She has since been declared cancer-free and has returned to work acting in shows like the Netflix series Dead To Me, where she plays a woman who has a BRCA1 gene mutation and opts for a preventative double mastectomy.
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In 2002, Charlie’s Angels’ Jaclyn Smith was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer when she went for her yearly mammogram. Thankfully, her tumor was small, so she opted for a lumpectomy, followed by radiation.
Smith has shared that she initially wanted to stay quiet about her cancer diagnosis so it wouldn’t affect her kids and family. But after speaking with her friend who underwent breast cancer treatment, she learned that it’s best to talk to people and to share your experiences so others can learn and take preventative measures of their own. The actor is now a big advocate for going to yearly screenings and making health a priority.
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Grease star Olivia Newton-John has battled breast cancer three times in nearly 30 years. She was first diagnosed in 1992, the same weekend her father died from cancer. During her first round of treatment, Newton-John underwent a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy, and breast reconstruction. She also opted to change her lifestyle by adding herbal remedies, meditation, and by eating healthy. Her cancer returned in 2013 and again in 2017. As of 2021, she is living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. She has shared in interviews that she’s feeling good, despite the struggles of living with a breast cancer diagnosis for the third time.
In 2015, the celebrity chef revealed that she was diagnosed with early-stage cancer after going to her annual screening. Soon after her big reveal, she decided to undergo a lumpectomy and then a double mastectomy. She had complications after her double mastectomy that prevented her from undergoing the reconstruction surgery she wanted. She shared in early 2020 that she finally underwent reconstruction nearly five years after her mastectomy.
Actress Angelina Jolie is a little different than the other women on this list, because she’s a previvor, or someone genetically predisposed to developing breast cancer. She made the courageous decision in 2013 to have a double mastectomy after discovering she carries the BRCA1 gene. She decided two years later in 2015 to undergo an oophorectomy.
Breast cancer and ovarian cancer run in the Jolie family: Jolie’s mother died at age 56 after battling both ovarian and breast cancer. Her grandmother and aunt also died of breast cancer. She has described that her decision to take these preventative measures came from wanting to see her children grow up and meet her future grandchildren -- something women in her family were unable to do.
Screen Yourself Regularly For Breast Cancer
The most important thing you can do is to be your own advocate. Learn from these celebrities and their own stories, whether they discovered cancer while raising awareness on national TV or in the course of other medical procedures. No matter your age, stage in life, or profession, it’s important to speak with your doctor about the right annual screening for you, to conduct self-exams at home, and say something if you think something isn’t right. By taking these precautions, you can help detect cancer before it becomes more difficult to treat.