‘Cancer Free’? What kind of Cancer did Hugo Chavez really have?

Did the Venezuelan president really die of cancer?

Rumours started in July 2011 that the Venezuelan ‘dictator was’ unwell. Officials vociferously denied it.

Now it is known that Hugo Chavez had been suffering from cancer, underwent chemotherapy, and initially survived kidney failure. It seems impossible to imagine that some form of cancer hasn’t led to his demise. But the true nature of his illness remains shrouded in mystery. Enthusiatically claiming he had been ‘healed’ of cancer – one doctor previously treating him fled the country after announcing that his cancer was incurable. Hugo’s spokesmen saying nothing more than he has had a cancer of the ‘pelvic’ region.

So what was Chavez’s true illness? We can’t be certain, but Dr Stu dons his medical garb and can’t resist having a guess. Here’s his rundown of the most likely malignancies to have led to the demise of the Venezuelan leader.

6. Oesophageal cancer

Let’s face it; the ex-military military officer wasn’t exactly in trim shape. Given his presidential status, it would be fair to assume he had a fairly lavish lifestyle. Latin America has amongst the highest head and neck cancers in the world. Combined with being overweight, being a male and possibly a tobacco user (I can’t imagine Hugo not having indulged in a cigar or two) put him at increased odds of contracting this malignancy.

That said, although cancer of the gullet can spread around the body (e.g. the liver) – it’s quite a distance from the ‘pelvic’ region. And if it had spread that far, he certainly wouldn’t be looking as well as he did when the rumour mill first started.

5. Lung cancer

Over a third of Venezuelan men regularly smoke. Hugo Chavez had a military background and a rather nice income and it was reported he was a cigarette smoker. One in six male smokers get lung cancer at some point – so lung cancer is quite feasible (although, again not in keeping with claims of ‘pelvic’ cancer).

4. Renal cancer

Cancer of the Kidney isn’t very common. It’s associated with smoking and high blood pressure. It has been speculated the South American president had high blood pressure but no one can be certain. Kidney cancer might explain his hospital visit for treatment of renal failure – but there are plenty of other reasons for this, and may have been caused by his chemotherapy treatment. Kidney cancer is a possible given his history, and worthwhile including in the list.

3. Colon cancer

When the news broke that Chavez was suffering from cancer first emerged, it was widely reported he had contracted cancer of the colon. Cancer of the large bowel is amongst the most common of cancers to affect men – so it would be fair to speculate this as a cause. It would also fit with the official line of a ‘pelvic’ malignancy.

2. Sarcoma

Kaposis Sarcoma
Kaposi’s Sarcoma: Not nice

A particularly uncommon condition, news outlets were awash that it Kaposi’s sarcoma afflicted Hugo. To guess that this obscure cancer (which most commonly occurs in people with HIV/AIDS) was the source of his medical turmoil would ordinarily be farfetched – unless of course, it wasn’t for one of the president’s doctors (Dr Navarrete) claiming it to be true. These claims have been strongly rebuffed by officials, and to be fair, Dr Navarete hasn’t treated Hugo for over ten years.

Still, a sarcoma could well affect the ‘pelvic’ region…

1.  Prostate cancer

Hugo Chavez (Source: Jose Cruz/ABr via Wikimedia)At 57 years old when the cancer diagnosis first came to light, Hugo’s kiwifruit-sized pelvic organ would almost certainly have started to grow. An unfortunate eventuality of male aging is the enlargement of the prostate gland. All men, if they were to live long enough, will eventually get prostate cancer: somehow the little gland is programmed for destruction. For most though, it’s not the cause of their demise (something else gets them first or it is treated).

Given the frequency of prostate cancer (thirty percent of men in their fifties have signs of it) and his age, this pathology should be near the top of the list for anyone fitting the history of the Venezulan top dog.

Prostate cancer is also often curable if caught early enough and bizarrely it has been proposed to have a better prognosis in developing countries. So although Hugo’s claim of a complete cure may have seemed fantastical – who really knows?

The Prognosis?

Fruit and Vegetables, Turnham Green - geograph.org.uk (Source: Wikimedia)
Fruit and Veg: Good at reducing cancer risk (Image: Pam Brophy via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, Hugo Chavez had the right to privacy regarding his health. An inquisitive medic (such as myself) can’t resist having a guess at the truth – especially when claim and counter-claim abound.

Anyone who announces with certainty they are ‘cancer free’ immediately after receiving chemotherapy sets alarm bells ringing.  Politics has muddied the waters, and we all have the right to privacy. For the inquisitive, the truth may never emerge.



Bosetti, C., & La Vecchia, C. (2005). Cancer mortality in Latin America: implications for prevention Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública, 18 (1) DOI: 10.1590/S1020-49892005000600001

Follow links above for more information sources.

Article by Stuart Farrimond

March 6, 2013

Doctor Stu is editor of Guru Magazine. He originally trained as a medical doctor before deciding to branch out into lecturing, writing, editing and science communication. He drinks far too much coffee, eats lots of ice cream and has a bizarre love of keeping fit.
You can check out Doctor Stu’s blog at realdoctorstu.com or his poncy personal website stuartfarrimond.com. Here's his .

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4 thoughts on “‘Cancer Free’? What kind of Cancer did Hugo Chavez really have?”

  1. Chavez is the president of a nation which is a very important source of oil for the world.

    His health is not a state secret and should be disclosed.

  2. If he has Prostate Cancer, and they removed a large tumor from his abdoman, perhaps he has Prostate Cancer. If he had gone to the DR. when he should have, he would not be going through what he is going through now. By By Chavez. You deserve whatever it is that you have. You are a mean man who takes advantage of his people.

    1. Yes, prostate cancer is a definite possibility. Although early referral to a doctor can often result in curative treatment – not always. With several cancers, the symptoms sadly only develop when it is an advanced stage.

  3. “Latin America has amongst the highest head and neck cancers in the world.”

    Could it be because Venezuela and Argentina are using nuclear reactors to sterilize their corned beef?

    Bone cancer is most closely associated with the ingestion of radium.

    Since cancer of the pelvis, and not colon or prostate is stated in the press releases I think that the postmortem diagnosis is rather easy.

    Osteocarcinoma due to ingestion of radium or uranium salts. autopsy of Chavez’s bones could confirm or refute this hypothesis.


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