Celebrities Who Have Had Ovarian Cancer

by Sheila M. Eldred Health Writer

Ovarian cancer has been called the silent killer, but there’s nothing silent about the women who have had it. With approximately 22,240 new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed in 2018 and 14,070 ovarian cancer deaths in the U.S., the disease has afflicted everyone from civil rights heroes to Olympic athletes to Academy Award winners. Read on to learn about different famous figures who have battled this cancer.

Gilda Radner.
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SNL star Gilda Radnor died of ovarian cancer at age 42

The Emmy- and Grammy-award-winning Radnor was an original cast member of Saturday Night Live. Before she died of ovarian cancer in 1989, she asked her husband, Gene Wilder, to use her story to help organizations that support cancer research and patients.

Shannon Miller.
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Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller recovered from a rare form of ovarian cancer

Shannon Miller’s stage II cancer was detected early, and after surgery and nine weeks of chemo, the winner of seven Olympic medals found herself exhausted — but in remission.

That was in 2011. Now, the mother of two uses “whatever voice I have from my Olympic career to encourage women to keep medical appointments, get more sleep, eat right, get and stay fit, and recognize the signs and symptoms of cancer,” she told the American Cancer Society.

Coretta Scott King.
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Coretta Scott King died of complications from ovarian cancer

The civil rights leader advocated for racial equality, women’s rights, and LGBT rights throughout her life. She suffered a stroke in 2005 and died five months later; over 10,000 people attended her funeral. She was 78.

Rosa DeLauro.
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Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro has been a survivor for over 30 years

Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro has represented Connecticut since 1990 — and she has been in remission from ovarian cancer since 1985. She has advocated for biomedical research, including new screening tests for ovarian cancer.

Jessica Tandy.
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Jessica Tandy died of ovarian cancer at age 85

The British-American actress, perhaps best known for her title role in "Driving Miss Daisy," was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1990 and died four years later.

Wangari Maathai.
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Wangari Maathai died of complications from ovarian cancer

The Kenyan environmental and political activist worked right up until her death at age 71. After founding the Green Belt Movement in the 1970s, an organization committed to preserving the environment and gaining women’s rights through planting trees, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She was the first African woman to receive it.

Kathy Bates.
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Movie star Kathy Bates is a survivor of both ovarian and breast cancer

The Oscar-award winner was treated for ovarian cancer in 2003, and she was back on the screen on 2004. Although she didn’t talk much about her ovarian cancer experience publicly, she has become a vocal advocate for cancer support after her more recent bout with breast cancer.

Brandi Maxiell.
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Reality TV star Brandi Maxiell is in remission

Maxiell was only 24 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Initially misdiagnosed, Maxiell attributes her early detection to listening to her body. “I knew something was wrong. I was gaining weight, but I knew I wasn’t pregnant. And I could feel knots poking through my body. Listening to my instincts, I decided to go for a second opinion,” she told Essence.

Barack Obama.
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Barack Obama’s mother had both uterine and ovarian cancer

Ann Dunham died in 1995 shortly after her cancer diagnoses. She was an anthropologist between jobs at the time, which Obama discussed in a 2007 speech:

“She was 52 years old when she died of ovarian cancer, and you know what she was thinking about in the last months of her life? She wasn't thinking about getting well. She wasn't thinking about coming to terms with her own mortality...she wasn't sure whether insurance was going to cover the medical expenses because they might consider this a preexisting condition.”

Sheila M. Eldred
Meet Our Writer
Sheila M. Eldred

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a graduate of Columbia’s School of Journalism and a former newspaper reporter. As a freelance health journalist, she writes about everything from life-threatening diseases to elite athletes. Her stories have appeared in The New York Times, Nature, FiveThirtyEight, Pacific Standard, STAT News, and other publications. In her spare time, she and her family love running, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking in Minneapolis.