Legendary crooner Andy Williams bravely vowed that he would beat bladder cancer when he announced he had the disease last November. But the “Moon River” singer died Tuesday at his home in Branson, Mo., at age 84.
Williams faced his cancer battle with his typical upbeat attitude. “I do have cancer of the bladder, but that’s no longer a death sentence,” he told a stunned Branson audience while announcing for the first time that he had the disease. “People with cancer are getting through this thing. They’re kicking it, and they’re winning more and more every year. And I’m going to be one of them.” SPECIAL: This Small Group of Doctors is Quietly Curing Cancer — Find Out How
Half of all bladder cancers can be attributed directly to smoking, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Williams was a former smoker, although he said that he had quit in 1963.
However, researchers say that even those who quit are at slightly more than double the risk of developing bladder cancer as never-smokers.
Because bladder cancer risk has not fallen in line with the number of people who have quit smoking, researchers believe there may be other environmental causes. Bladder cancer is also linked to the use of hair dyes and arsenic, which occurs naturally in some drinking water supplies. The state of Nevada reportedly has a relatively high concentration of arsenic in its groundwater. Williams performed in Las Vegas for 20 years as a headliner at Caesar’s Palace beginning in 1966.
Bladder cancer kills about 14,680 annually and 73,580 people are diagnosed with it each year in the U.S. It occurs three times more often in men than in women, and the risk increases with age, with 73 being the average age of diagnosis.
Malignancies occur most commonly in the lining of the bladder, and, if not diagnosed early, can spread into bladder’s muscle walls, where it is far more difficult to treat.
Symptoms of early bladder cancer include painful urination, blood in the urine, urinating small amounts frequently, and frequent urinary tract infection. As the disease progresses, it can cause back pain, especially around the kidneys, lower leg swelling, weight loss, bone pain in the anal, rectal, or pelvic region, and anemia.
Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy, which is the use of certain medications to control the growth of the cancer cells and relieve symptoms. This form of therapy is most effective when used to treat early-stage bladder cancer.
Williams became a household name in the 1960s because of his TV Christmas specials and “The Andy Williams Show,” which ran on NBC from 1962 to 1971. He spent his final 20 years performing at his own 2,054-seat theater, the Moon River Theater, in Branson, which he built in 1992.
The singer’s health seemed to be improving as recently as this summer. In July, his theater announced that Williams was “getting stronger every day,” and he hoped to return to the stage in September. SPECIAL: How One Deck of Cards Has Shown to Improve Memory