Top 5 Footballers Who Battled Cancer

Top 5 Footballers Who Battled Cancer

Top 5 Footballers Who Battled Cancer


Cardiovascular and respiratory health is crucial for athletes who put much physical effort into practice and competition.

Even superathletes, like football players, can develop rare conditions like mesothelioma, an asbestos-linked respiratory cancer. For instance, Merlin Olsen, a well-known actor and football star, developed mesothelioma allegedly from asbestos exposure.

Typically, mesothelioma is diagnosed at a later stage. Visit this mesothelioma stages guide to the condition’s symptoms and potential treatments.

Meanwhile, maybe you’re a football fan and want to know about other football players in the U.S. who battled cancer. On the other hand, you may be a football player and want to know if playing football is a cancer risk factor.

This article lists and tells the story of football players in the U.S. who fought cancer. The write-up also explains whether football increases your risk of developing cancer.

5 Footballers Who Fought Cancer

    Here are the five well-known football players who battled cancer:

  • Mark Herzlich

    In 2009, Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, after suffering from severe pain in his left leg. At the time, doctors told him he’d be lucky to walk again, let alone play football.

    In 2011, Herzlich went undrafted in the NFL Draft, possibly due to a decrease in speed and strength from his treatments. 

However, that’s when his remarkable seven-year career with the New York Giants began, after signing as an undrafted free agent before the 2011 season.

    He was drafted outright and started two games during the regular season before an ankle injury ended his season. Still, it didn’t stop the Giants, who won the playoffs over the Falcons, Packers, and 49ers.

  • Trent Williams

Williams says he had a bump on his head five years before he was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. The then Washington Commanders’ team doctor told him it was probably just a cyst.

However, during William’s exit physically in 2018, he requested an appointment with a specialist after noticing the growth on his head had gotten bigger and feeling more growth forming.

Soon after Wiliams underwent a biopsy, he received the unfortunate news  that one of the growths wasn’t a cyst but a tumor.

His doctors informed him that he had been diagnosed with rare cancer called DFSP (Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans). They were shocked that Williams had told the team about the bump on his head years ago.

The situation got worse from there. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)  tests showed the extent of Williams’ cancer’s spread. 

Fortunately, Williams’ cancer did not fully metastasize through his skull. Eventually, he responded well to treatments.

In April 2020, he traded for a fifth- and third-round pick and went to San Francisco. It was a big deal for the Niners. Still, more importantly, Williams has been able to continue his career and set aside concerns about his illness.

  • James Conner

    Conner was rehabbing for a completely different injury while attending Pitt for his college football career when he received a Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis. This devastating news left him uncertain whether or not he would survive, let alone continue playing football.

    Conner slipped lower in the NFL Draft due to his cancer diagnosis before receiving a call from the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Conner didn’t play much with the Steelers his rookie year but broke out in 2018.

  • Eric Berry

    From 2010 to 2018, he played nine seasons for the Chiefs as a safety. On December 8, 2014, Berry, a three-time All-Pro, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

While he had to end his NFL season early in 2014, he was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2015 with 61 tackles and two interceptions. 

During his 89-game career, Berry made 445 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 14 interceptions, five touchdowns from interceptions, forced four fumbles, and recovered two fumbles.

  • Jim Kelly

    In June 2013, Kelly was diagnosed with an upper jaw squamous cell carcinoma. He never smoked or chewed tobacco but still contracted the disease. He got part of his jawbone removed, and his doctors then told him the surgery went well.

    However, nine months later, follow-up tests showed cancer in Kelly’s sinus. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation but was told that he’s got a 10% chance of survival.

His grueling treatment left him unable to produce saliva, but he made it through. 

Kelly credited his family, his faith, and the prayers he received from football fans worldwide for helping him beat cancer.

Is Playing Football a Cancer Risk Factor?

    Very few studies provide a clear link between football activities and cancer development. 

    For instance, a study on Notre Dame footballers showed that the likelihood of brain and other nervous system cancer mortality was higher among football players than in the general U.S. male population. However, the researchers weren’t sure why it was the case. 

Further studies must examine the possible association between playing football and specific cancer conditions.


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