By Steve Blanchard - October 13, 2022
Terry Bradshaw, a Hall of Fame football player and television analyst, shared that he’s privately battled cancer twice over the past year.
“In November, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I went to the Yale University Medical Center ... surgery, treatment. As of today, I am bladder cancer-free," he said. "Alright, that’s the good news. Then in March, feeling good. I had a bad neck, I get an MRI, now we find a tumor in my left neck and it’s a Merkel cell tumor, which is a rare form of skin cancer.”
Merkel cells are located deep in the top layer of the skin and are connected to nerves. Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare, aggressive form of skin cancer that has a high risk of recurring and spreading within a few years of diagnosis.
“Merkel usually presents as a painless lump on the skin that can range from skin-colored to red or reddish-blue,” said Dr. Andrew Brohl, a medical oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center who specializes in the disease. “The lump may initially look like a pimple or cyst, but generally will grow significantly over a period of weeks or months. Similar to other skin cancers, Merkel tends to arise on areas of the body that are most often exposed to sunlight.”
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the disease is 40 times rarer than melanoma, with about 3,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the U.S.
“Merkel cell carcinoma unfortunately is considered one of the most aggressive and deadly skin cancers and stage for stage is even more serious than melanoma,” Brohl said. “Thankfully, and similar to other skin cancers, the chance of cure is much higher when caught early and treated appropriately.”
"Thankfully, and similar to other skin cancers, the chance of cure is much higher when caught early and treated appropriately."- Dr. Andrew Brohl, medical oncologist
Treatment depends on how advanced a case is when it is diagnosed, Brohl added. For cases that are caught early, treatment usually involves surgical removal and radiation therapy to the impacted area.
“For cases that are caught late, most are treated with systemic immunotherapy,” Brohl said. That can include medications designed to increase the body’s immune system to better combat the cancer.
Merkel cell carcinoma develops in areas that are regularly exposed to sunlight or artificial sources of ultraviolet (UV) light, such as tanning beds. That’s why it’s so important to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays and to pay attention to changes in your skin.
Bladder cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, will impact about 81,000 people this year. Nearly three-fourths of patients diagnosed with high-risk bladder cancer will recur, progress or die within 10 years of their diagnosis.
According to Dr. Roger Li, a genitourinary surgeon at Moffitt, the older population is more at risk for bladder cancer, specifically men in their 70s.
Treatment is improving for bladder cancer patients. A new study published in JAMA shows robotic surgery reduced the chance of readmission by more than half (52%) and revealed a 77% reduction in prevalence of blood clots, a significant cause of health decline and morbidity when compared to patients who had open surgery.
If you notice any changes in your health, you should see your health provider immediately to learn what treatments area available. Thanks to research and clinical trials, scientists are making new discoveries for better treatment.
Fortunately for Bradshaw, treatment for both cancers was successful, and the former Steelers quarterback said he is now cancer free.
“Folks, I may not look like my old self, but I feel like my old self,” he said. “I’m cancer free, I’m feeling great, and over time I’m going to be back to where I normally am. So, I appreciate your prayers and your concern.”