Curt Schilling, the former Major League Baseball pitcher, blamed three decades of chewing tobacco use for his mouth cancer, he told WEEI radio in Boston Aug. 20.
Schilling, whose cancer is now in remission, was diagnosed in February and underwent seven weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. The 6-foot-4 Curt, who weighed about 200 pounds before his cancer diagnosis, said his grueling treatment resulted in a shocking 75-pound weight loss.
This is the first time Schilling has spoken publicly about his mouth cancer (also known as squamous cell carcinoma). Curt, 47, said he was addicted to chewing tobacco and used it constantly for 30 years.
"I'll go to my grave believing that was why I got what I got," said Schilling. "Absolutely. No question in my mind about that. I do believe without a doubt, unquestionably, that chewing is what gave me cancer. It was an addictive habit."
Oncologist Agrees: Chewing Tobacco Can Cause Cancer
Schilling's oncologist, Dr. Robert Haddad, joined Schilling for the interview, and said he too believes Curt's mouth cancer was due to chewing tobacco.
One of the well-described and defined risks for oral cancer is smokeless tobacco, which is what we’re talking about here. It is not a question mark. This has been shown repeatedly, and the National Cancer Institute clearly makes the case that any form of tobacco is harmful and should not be used.”
Schilling said he used smokeless chewing tobacco to relax and eventually lost his sense of smell and his taste buds. Despite these horrible side effects, Curt continued to use chewing tobacco because he was addicted to it. However, Schilling said the excruciating pain he experienced during his cancer treatment has put him off chewing tobacco forever.
"There are so many things that are damaged during the process," said Schilling. "I don't have any salivary glands, so I can't taste anything, and I can't smell anything right now. And there's no guarantee they'll come back.
"The pain I was in going through this treatment, the second or third day, it was the first thing and the only thing in my life that I've ever had that I wish I could go back and never have dipped. Not once. It was so painful."
Tony Gwynn Died of Oral Cancer; Also Blamed Chewing Tobacco
Schilling's mouth cancer diagnosis comes just two months after the tragic June 2014 death of baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who died at age 54 from cancer of the salivary gland. Gwynn told the San Diego Union-Tribune he suspected his cancer was due to his longtime use of smokeless tobacco.
Gwynn's death and Schilling's cancer diagnosis is shining a spotlight on the dangers of chewing tobacco, which some people mistakenly believe is a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. However, health experts do not agree, warning that tobacco of any kind dramatically increases cancer risk.
"The experience of Tony Gwynn and Curt Schilling sends a powerful message that chewing tobacco poses to the health of players," said Vince Willmore, a rep for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "It sets a terrible example to young fans. Smokeless tobacco contains nicotine and is very addictive."
Both smokeless chewing tobacco and cigarettes can cause oral cancer, esophageal cancer and pancreatic cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.