Tag Archives: cancer

Q&A: A look at the cancer some believe linked to Vietnam War

A rare bile duct cancer that may be linked to time served in the Vietnam War is quietly killing some former soldiers.

The disease can be caused by liver flukes, a parasite found in raw or undercooked fish that is common in parts of Asia.

Some veterans are fighting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to recognize their disease as service-related so they can receive benefits, but most claims are denied.

 

WHAT ARE LIVER FLUKES?

Liver flukes are parasites ingested in raw or undercooked freshwater fish. They are endemic in parts of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, along with other areas, mainly in China and South Korea. Some 25 million people are infected with the worms. Liver flukes die when frozen, but they can survive fermentation or pickling. Visitors traveling in endemic areas can also be infected.

 

WHAT IS CHOLANGIOCARCINOMA, AND HOW DO LIVER FLUKES CAUSE IT?

Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare cancer that affects the bile duct. Liver flukes are a risk factor; others include hepatitis B and C, cirrhosis and bile duct stones. After the worms are ingested, they can live for more than 25 years in the bile duct, causing inflammation and scarring that can eventually lead to cancer. The disease is difficult to treat, with many victims dying within months of diagnosis. A patient typically does not experience any symptoms, such as jaundice, until the end stages.

 

CAN THIS CANCER BE TREATED?

Bile duct cancer is unusual because it can be prevented in some cases. Pills can wipe out liver flukes early on, but the medicine is not effective in later stages after the worms have died and scarring has occurred. Surgery is possible in some cases, but the survival rate is only about 30 percent for five years, said Dr. Gregory Gores, a gastroenterologist and executive dean of research at Mayo Clinic. Affected countries, such as Vietnam and Laos, have not conducted extensive research to determine the extent of the problem. The world’s highest rate of cholangiocarcinoma _ about 84 new cases per 100,000 people — is found in northeastern Thailand where many people eat a popular raw fish dish. In the U.S., cholangiocarcinoma is extremely rare, with around 1.7 in 100,000 people diagnosed each year.

 

WHAT IS THE CONNECTION TO VIETNAM VETERANS?

Men who served in the Vietnam War and ate raw or poorly cooked fish, sometimes while on patrol in the jungle after their rations ran out, could have been infected by liver flukes. Left untreated, they can experience symptoms related to bile duct cancer decades later. Because the disease is so rare and awareness about liver flukes is poor in the U.S., many veterans may not be aware of the possible connection to their service time.

 

ARE VETERANS WITH THIS CANCER ELIGIBLE FOR FINANCIAL HELP?

Each case is examined individually, and it’s up to veterans to prove to the Department of Veterans Affairs that their cancer is “as likely as not” related to their service time. The VA says fewer than 700 cholangiocarcinoma patients have passed through its medical system in the past 15 years. In part because they are unaware of the potential link to their war days, only 307 of the veterans submitted claims for benefits over that period. Even though the VA sometimes approves the link between wartime service and cholangiocarcinoma, the vast majority of claims — 3 out of 4 — are rejected, according to data obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act.

 

Milwaukee alderman proposes ban on smokeless tobacco at sports venues

Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy has proposed an ordinance that would eliminate the use of smokeless tobacco products at Miller Park and other sports venues in the city.

An announcement from Murphy’s office said public health advocates would  join him at a Milwaukee Common Council hearing on the ordinance Nov. 10.

His proposal applies to all sports facilities at all levels — professional, collegiate, high school and amateur — within city limits and would cover everyone in the venues, including on the playing field, benches, vendor areas, spectator stands, parking lots and tailgating locations.

Murphy said Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco have enacted similar prohibitions. And a measure awaits the  mayor’s signature in Washington, D.C.

Also, next year, a law in California will take effect that would make 11 of the 30 Major League Baseball stadiums will be tobacco-free.

Public health experts, including at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Surgeon General, U.S. National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization, have concluded smokeless tobacco use is dangerous, containing at least 28 known carcinogens and causes oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer.

The product also causes nicotine addiction and other serious health problems like gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions. 

“For too long tobacco has been a stain on the great game of baseball and it’s time to get tobacco out of baseball once and for all to set the right example for the millions of kids who watch the sport and emulate their favorite players,” Murphy said in a statement. “When they are on the job, major league players have a responsibility to set the right example. Let’s make Milwaukee a shining example for the rest of the game.”

The CDC has reported that high school athletes use smokeless tobacco at nearly twice the rate of non-athletes and smokeless tobacco use among athletes increased more than 11 percent from 2001 to 2013, even as smoking rates dropped significantly.

Among male high school athletes, smokeless tobacco use is at 17.4 percent in 2013.

“Our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Milwaukee is sending the right message that baseball players are role models for our nation’s youth and that chewing tobacco is dangerous and should not be an accepted part of sports culture.”

In 2013, manufacturers of smokeless tobacco spent more than $500 million on marketing.

On the Web

For information on the Knock Tobacco Out of the Park campaign go to tobaccofreebaseball.org.

Biden: Progress on ‘moonshot’ to find cancer cure

 Vice President Joe Biden said this week the White House’s “moonshot” to find a cure for cancer has been making real progress in the past year, but more needs to be done as the nation prepares to elect a new president.

Speaking to a crowd of hundreds of health care professionals and researchers gathered in Boston, the 73-year-old Democrat touched on a range of initiatives the “Cancer Moonshot” task force he chairs has been working on since President Barack Obama announced the effort in his final State of the Union in January.

Biden, who lost his son, Beau, a former Delaware attorney general, to cancer last year, said the administration is trying to speed up the federal drug approval process and make it easier for cancer patients to take part in clinical trials.

He also said the administration is encouraging cancer researchers to share more information among themselves, something that he says doesn’t happen as much as it should.

“We’re just getting started,” Biden said. “We’re on the cusp of enormous, enormous progress.”

He said more work also needs to be done to enhance cancer prevention and detection efforts, particularly among disadvantaged populations.

“This country has the capacity to do anything it sets its mind to,” Biden said. “We’re on the verge of some astounding breakthroughs, I promise you. Stuff that will absolutely take your breath away.”

Biden chairs a task force comprised of the heads of at least a dozen federal departments and agencies, including the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The task force aims to double the rate of progress in cancer research and treatment, accomplishing what could be achieved in ten years in five.

Biden has been making a series of stops since providing the president with a progress report on the “moonshot” effort earlier this week. He told the Boston crowd that he was in New York just hours earlier speaking about the initiative at another event, which was the reason why he was more than an hour late.

Among the dozens of public and private sector initiatives highlighted in the “moonshot” report is a collaboration between Microsoft, Amazon and the National Cancer Institute to build an online repository for cancer genomic data.

The report also mentions commitments from Uber and Lyft to expand free or reduced ride programs to help cancer patients get to medical appointments, and a new study by the Department of Defense to investigate the “biological basis of cancer.”

The report was meant, in part, to serve as a blueprint for future administrations. But Congress has so far yet to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in funding the outgoing Obama administration has sought for the effort.

Biden has promised he’d devote the rest of his life to finding a cure for cancer, though he’s publicly dismissed the notion of working as a member of the next presidential administration on the effort.

UN experts: Glyphosate unlikely to cause cancer

The pesticide glyphosate, sold by Monsanto in its Roundup weed killer product and widely used in agriculture and by gardeners, is unlikely to cause cancer in people, according to a new safety review by United Nations health, agriculture and food experts.

In a statement likely to intensify a row over its potential health impact, experts from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization said glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans” exposed to it through food. It is mostly used on crops.

Having reviewed the scientific evidence, the joint WHO/FAO committee also said glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic in humans. In other words, it is not likely to have a destructive effect on cells’ genetic material.

Diazinon and malathion, two other pesticides reviewed by the committee, which met last week and published its conclusions on Monday, were also found to be unlikely to be carcinogenic.

“In view of the absence of carcinogenic potential in rodents at human-relevant doses and the absence of genotoxicity by the oral route in mammals, and considering the epidemiological evidence from occupational exposures, the meeting concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet,” the committee said.

Glyphosate is also “unlikely to be genotoxic at anticipated dietary exposures”, it added.

The group reaffirmed an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of up to 1 milligram of glyphosate for every kilogram of body weight.

CONTRADICTORY?

The conclusions appear to contradict a finding by the WHO’s Lyon-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which in March 2015 said glyphosate is “probably” able to cause cancer in humans and classified it as a ‘Group 2A’ carcinogen.

Seven months after the IARC review, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an independent agency funded by the European Union, published a different assessment, saying glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans”.

The United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which first assessed glyphosate in 1986 and has reviewed it several times since then, had also previously concluded it has “low toxicity for humans”.

The differing findings thrust glyphosate into the centre of a row involving EU and U.S. politicians and regulators, the IARC experts, the WHO and environmental and agricultural scientists.

The EU’s pesticides committee is due to meet later this week to decide whether to re-license glyphosate. The U.S. EPA is being investigated for withdrawing a report saying the chemical is probably not carcinogenic.

In a question-and-answer document issued alongside the joint FAO/WHO statement, the WHO denied that the conclusions by the joint group and by IARC were contradictory. It said they were “different, yet complementary”, with the IARC assessment focussed on hazard while the other looked at risk.

“IARC reviews published studies to identify potential cancer hazards,” the WHO said. “It does not estimate the level of risk to the population associated with exposure to the hazard.”

In contrast, it said, the joint FAO/WHO committee looks at published and unpublished studies to assess the health risk to consumers from dietary exposure to pesticide residues in food.

HUD seeks to snuff out smoking in housing

Public housing across the United States may go smoke-free in two years if a rule proposed by U.S. Housing and Urban Development takes effect.

The rule would require more than 3,100 public housing agencies to carry out policies prohibiting lighted tobacco products — including pipes, cigars and cigarettes — in living units, common areas, offices and outdoor areas within 25 feet of office buildings or housing.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy announced the proposal earlier this year, opening a 60-day public comment period that ends this spring. “We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke,” Castro stated. “This proposed rule will help improve the health of more than 760,000 children and help public housing agencies save $153 million every year in health care, repairs and preventable fires.”

Cigarette smoking kills 480,000 people each year and is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke and cleaning the air, ventilating buildings and separating smokers from non-smokers cannot eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.

The only way to protect nonsmokers is to stop indoor smoking. A web of federal, state and local laws has extinguished indoor smoking in many places. Yet, 58 million Americans — including an estimated 15 million children — remain exposed to secondhand smoke, mostly at home.

HUD’s rule would impact more than 940,000 housing units, expanding on a voluntary campaign initiated by HUD in 2009. Over seven years, more than 600 public housing agencies — including at least 51 of the 123 housing authorities in Wisconsin — have adopted smoke-free policies for buildings and common areas. HUD estimates that more than 228,000 housing units already are smoke-free.

With a caution, the National Association of Community Health Centers supports the goals of the proposed rule. The association’s chief concern, said Colleen P. Meiman, director of regulatory affairs, is whether the rule would lead to increased homelessness.

“Smoking is an addiction,” Meiman said in her public comment to HUD. If the ban is implemented, she said any violations “should result in progressive action, starting with referrals to smoking cessation service” and “violations should never result in fines or eviction.”

In Wisconsin, advocates for the rule include fire chiefs, the Wisconsin Asthma Coalition in West Allis, American Lung Association in Brookfield, Westlawn Partnership for a Healthier Environment in northwest Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention.

The UW center cited a CDC study estimating that banning smoking in public and subsidized housing would save $310.48 million annually in health care costs associated with secondhand smoke, $133.77 million in costs for renovating and maintaining smoky apartments and buildings and $52.57 million in avoided fire damages.

The center encouraged HUD to expand the proposed rule to include e-cigarettes and other “electronic nicotine delivery systems,” with a reference to “growing evidence of carcinogenic and other harmful chemicals in e-cigarette liquid and vapor.

Many advocating a ban observed that secondhand smoke cannot be contained — that it travels through air leaks in ceilings, floors and walls.

The rule “has the potential to reduce health care costs, save lives and improve the quality of life for so many Americans,” according to Anne Dressel, project director for Westlawn Partnership for a Healthier Environment.

The partnership is a group of community stakeholders that has met regularly since 2008 to address health and environmental concerns at Westlawn, Wisconsin’s largest publicly subsidized housing development.

Dressel, in her comment on the proposed rule, said Milwaukee County ranks as the worst county in the state for asthma-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits. And the rate of asthma-related hospitalizations for children residing in the Westlawn community is about twice the county rate. The rate of emergency room visits for Westlawn is 1.5 times higher than the county rate.

 

FDA to begin testing food for world’s most commonly used pesticide

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will begin testing food for glyphosate, the world’s most commonly used pesticide.

This marks the first time that a U.S. agency will routinely test for glyphosate residue in food. The news follows the release of a U.S. Government Accountability Office report criticizing the FDA for failing to disclose its failure to test for glyphosate in an annual pesticide residue report.

“In the wake of intense scrutiny, the Food and Drug Administration has finally committed to taking this basic step of testing our food for the most commonly used pesticide. It’s shocking that it’s taken so long, but we’re glad it’s finally going to happen,” said Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental advocacy group. “More and more scientists are raising concerns about the effects of glyphosate on human health and the environment. With about 1.7 billion pounds of this pesticide used each year worldwide, the FDA’s data is badly needed to facilitate long-overdue conversations about how much of this chemical we should tolerate in our food.”

Leading scientists published an article about the exploding use of glyphosate around the world in the latest issue of the journal Environmental Health.

In the paper, they point to concerns over rapidly increasing use, outdated science and the World Health Organization’s finding that glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup, is a probable human carcinogen and glyphosate is a leading cause of massive declines in monarch butterflies.

The authors called on regulatory agencies to take a fresh look at the real-world impacts of glyphosate and to start monitoring its levels in people and in food.

“The alarm bell is ringing loud and clear. The current cavalier use of glyphosate, and lax regulation, cannot remain in place,” said Donley. “It’s long past time to start reining in the out-of-control use of this dangerous pesticide in the United States and around the world.” 

Just last week, 35 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy expressing concerns regarding the potential negative health and environmental impacts of a pesticide, Enlist Duo, that combines glyphosate and 2,4-D. EPA is currently reanalyzing its decision to register the dangerous pesticide following a remand order from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Monsanto also is embroiled in a legal battle with California over the state’s move to list glyphosate as a carcinogen under Proposition 65 law.

As the legal battle plays out, a new report from CBD has found that more than half of the glyphosate sprayed in the state was applied in the California’s eight most impoverished counties.

Trail of cancer deaths near plastics factory linked to tap water

After his factory worker father died a painful death from kidney cancer at age 68 in 2013, Michael Hickey made it his mission to find out why so many people in his New York hometown along the Hoosic River were getting sick.

Two years later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has warned residents of Hoosick Falls not to drink or cook with water from municipal wells, and a plastics plant has agreed to install a $2 million carbon filtration system at the village water treatment plant.

This most recent link discovered between cancer and polluted water should be of major concern to Wisconsin.  Last October, Midwest Environmental Advocates requested an EPA investigation of the Wisconsin DNR for failing to comply with the Clean Water Act in the state. Clean water advocates want the federal agency to strip Wisconsin of its authority to control water pollution if it doesn’t do a better job.

The excessive water pollution allowed by Walker and the state’s Republican leadership has raised eyebrows all over the nation for its transparently aggressive attempt to reward major donors affiliated with Koch Industries and Big Ag, which have contributed many millions of dollars to their campaigns.

Esquire magazine reported last November that the “deregulation regime put in place by (Gov. Scott) Walker and his pet legislature, which necessarily involved defanging the state’s environmental oversight authorities, is rendering much of Wisconsin’s water into a chemistry set. Between the nitrates leaching into rural wells from the over-farming of big agriculture, to towns that use a loophole in the regulations to … wait for it … avoid having to pay to purify their water supplies, the kitchen tap has become a prime venue for Russian roulette.”

One-man campaign

In Hooosick Falls, Hickey launched a one-man campaign to bring local water pollution to federal attention. He took it upon himself to examine the industrial pollution released into the groundwater in the factory village near the Vermont border, where his father had worked for 35 years at a plant that made high-performance plastics similar to Teflon. So Hickey searched online for “cancer” and “Teflon.”

What he found: PFOA.

Perfluorooctanoic acid, a water and oil repellent, had been used since the 1940s in products including non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and microwave popcorn bags. Manufacturers agreed to phase it out by the end of 2015 shortly after DuPont reached a $16.5 million settlement with the EPA over the company’s failure to report possible health risks associated with PFOA.

A scientific panel that conducted health studies as part of a DuPont settlement of a West Virginia class-action lawsuit concluded there was a “probable link” between PFOA exposure and kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

In Hoosick Falls, nobody has ever scientifically documented that the village has an unusually high cancer rate, but Hickey and a local doctor had heard enough anecdotal evidence that they felt it should be addressed.

“There’s always been talk around town about how there’s a lot of cancer,” Hickey said. “When my dad, who didn’t drink or smoke, was diagnosed with kidney cancer, that made it more personal.”

Dr. Marcus Martinez, the family doctor for many of the village’s 3,500 residents, added there certainly seemed to be a high rate of cancer there, particularly rare, aggressive forms. The 44-year-old Martinez himself is in remission from atypical bronchial carcinoid tumor, a rare form of lung cancer.

When the two men suggested testing the village water supply, part-time Mayor David Borge at first refused, citing state guidelines. New York state classifies PFOA as an “unspecified organic contaminant” and doesn’t require testing for it.

The EPA has a non-enforceable guidance level of 400 parts per trillion — roughly 4 teaspoons in enough water to fill a 10-mile string of rail tankers.

Hickey used his own money in summer 2014 to have water from his kitchen tap and other sources tested. The results showed PFOA at 540 ppt from Hickey’s home, exceeding the EPA’s guidance. Village officials subsequently tested the municipal supply and found PFOA at similar levels.

Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, part of a Paris-based global conglomerate, in 1999 became the fifth owner of a plastics factory in Hoosick Falls. It conducted tests in the summer of 2015 and reported a PFOA level of 18,000 ppt in groundwater under its plant, 500 yards from the village’s main water wells.

“Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics is committed to helping the village of Hoosick Falls with this situation,” company spokesman Carmen Ferrigno said. While the source of the PFOA contamination hasn’t been identified, Saint-Gobain has been paying for bottled water for residents since November and has agreed to pay for filtration to remove the chemical from the public water supply, he said.

Hickey and Martinez, along with Albany environmental lawyer David Engel, weren’t satisfied. They wanted people to be told not to drink the tap water, along with a full investigation and remediation.

Engel contacted Judith Enck, who heads the EPA region that includes New York. She issued a statement in December warning residents not to drink or cook with village water. Until then, state and village officials had told residents the water was unlikely to cause health problems.

On Jan. 14, Enck and a panel of leading EPA scientists addressed a standing-room-only crowd at Hoosick Falls’ high school auditorium. The same day, New York officials asked the EPA to add the Saint-Gobain plant and other possible sources of contamination in Hoosick Falls to the Superfund priorities list. The state health department also recently announced plans to study cancer rates in the village and vicinity.

“We are giving this contamination problem a high priority,” Enck said. “A very detailed study of groundwater is needed in Hoosick Falls to know what we are dealing with and how to best address it.”

Engel said that the village’s plan to install filters at the water plant is a good first step, but that the long-term solution should be to establish new wells to replace the contaminated ones.

Kevin Allard, 58, who worked at the plastics plant in the 1980s, said his mother died of pancreatic cancer at 54 and his father died of thyroid cancer at 81. In 2006, a 25-year-old friend of Allard’s son died of pancreatic cancer. Now, he worries about the health of his children, in their early 30s.

“They grew up on that water,” he said. “That’s what concerns me.”

Should Philip Morris pay for lung cancer screenings? Case goes to trial

A decade after a group of smokers from Massachusetts sued Philip Morris USA to try to force the cigarette maker to pay for lung cancer screenings, the case goes to a jury trial.

Smokers in the class-action lawsuit allege Philip Morris manufactured a defective cigarette knowing it could have made a safer product with fewer carcinogens.

They are not seeking money, but instead want to compel Philip Morris to pay for highly detailed, three-dimensional chest scans that can detect signs of early-stage lung cancer that may be too small to show up on traditional X-rays.

The closely watched case going to trial this week in federal court in Boston.

The jury will be asked to decide whether Philip Morris made Marlboro cigarettes that are unreasonably dangerous. If the jury finds in favor of the smokers, a second phase will be held to determine how a medical monitoring program will be administered.

No smokers are expected to testify during the first phase. Instead, it will be a trial of dueling experts.

The plaintiffs plan to call a former Philip Morris employee to testify that feasible alternative designs of Marlboros have existed for decades. They also plan to call a psychologist who will testify that given a choice between Marlboros or a safer cigarette, a non-addicted, informed person would choose the safer alternative.

Philip Morris is expected to call experts in cigarette design and marketing who are likely to testify that the company’s lower-tar and lower-nicotine cigarettes — on the market since the late 1970s — have failed to gain a significant market share among any group of smoker.

Richard Daynard, a law professor at Northeastern University and anti-smoking activist, said past lawsuits seeking to force tobacco companies to provide medical monitoring have failed. But Daynard said he believes the Massachusetts case has a stronger chance of succeeding because recent studies have found that the sophisticated screening can save lives.

“What’s happened is you have better technology which captures the tumors at a much earlier stage where there’s a very good chance that if you get them that the person … is probably not going to die from it,” Daynard said.

A Philip Morris spokesman declined to comment, and lawyers for the company did not respond to messages.

In court documents, the company denied that its cigarettes are defectively designed and argued that three-dimensional chest scans would not be effective or necessary for every person covered by the lawsuit.

The case covers Massachusetts smokers who, as of February 2013, were at least 50, had at least a 20 pack-year history of smoking Marlboros and have not been diagnosed with lung cancer. Pack-years are calculated by multiplying the average number of packs per day by the number of years a person has smoked.

The two sides agree that the chest scans are “reasonably and periodically necessary” for smokers 55 to 74 with at least a 30 pack-year history. They disagree on the rest of the smokers in the lawsuit.

Since the case was filed in 2006, insurers have begun to cover the screenings for certain smokers. Last year, Medicare announced it would pay for annual screenings for beneficiaries 55 to 77 with at least a 30 pack-year history.

U.S. District Judge Denise Casper rejected a request to exclude evidence about insurers agreeing to pay for three-dimensional chest scans, but said she’ll instruct jurors that they are not allowed to consider whether any of the smokers have insurance coverage for screening.

“The fact that insurance now covers it and it’s recognized for certain groups as being efficacious may have some evidentiary value in the case, but it does not change the fact that Philip Morris could be liable for the cost of the scans,” said Christopher Weld, an attorney for the smokers.

Remembering David Bowie, who has died at 69

Politicians, musicians and fans around the world — from the Vatican to the International Space Station — paid tribute to David Bowie on Monday, following his death at 69 from cancer.

Taking to Twitter or Facebook, many praised Bowie’s groundbreaking music and offered their own recollections of the singer, known for a string of hits such as “Space Oddity” and “Let’s Dance”.

Below are some of the tributes to Bowie, who released his last album “Blackstar” on Friday, also his birthday:

DUNCAN JONES, BOWIE’S SON, POSTING A PICTURE OF THE SINGER ON TWITTER:

“Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all.”

TONY VISCONTI, MUSIC PRODUCER AND LONG-TERM BOWIE COLLABORATOR:

“He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made ‘Blackstar’ for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”

QUEEN OFFICIAL TWITTER ACCOUNT, POSTING A VIDEO OF “UNDER PRESSURE”:

“This is our last dance…”

GARY KEMP, ACTOR AND SPANDAU BALLET MEMBER:

“Shocked to the core.”

“It feels as if the world has suddenly gone out of joint.”

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:

“I grew up listening to and watching the pop genius David Bowie. He was a master of re-invention, who kept getting it right. A huge loss.”

KANYE WEST, RAPPER:

“David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.”

GIANFRANCO RAVASI, CARDINAL AND HEAD OF THE VATICAN’S CULTURE COUNCIL, QUOTING “SPACE ODDITY” LYRICS:

“Ground Control to Major Tom

Commencing countdown, engines on

Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (David Bowie)”

TIM PEAKE, BRITISH ASTRONAUT, CURRENTLY ONBOARD INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION:

“Saddened to hear David Bowie has lost his battle with cancer – his music was an inspiration to many.”

RICKY GERVAIS, COMEDIAN:

“I just lost a hero. RIP David Bowie.”

GENE SIMMONS, ROCK SINGER:

“David Bowie, you will be sorely missed. Bowie’s ‘Changes’ and the Ziggy story songs were a major influence for me.”

Legendary rock star David Bowie dies at 69 after battle with cancer

Legendary British rock star David Bowie has died aged 69 after a secret battle with cancer.

A chameleon and a visionary, Bowie straddled the worlds of hedonistic rock, fashion and drama for five decades, pushing the boundaries of music and his own sanity to produce some of the most innovative songs of his generation.

“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer,” read a statement on Bowie’s Facebook page dated Sunday. Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, confirmed the death.

Mourners laid flowers and lit candles beside a memorial to Bowie in the Brixton area of south London where he was born, and tributes poured in from some of the biggest names in music, including the Rolling Stones, Madonna and rapper Kanye West.

“The Rolling Stones are shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the death of our dear friend David Bowie,” the Stones said. “He was an extraordinary artist, and a true original.”

Madonna said on Twitter: “Talented. Unique. Genius. Game Changer. The Man who Fell to Earth. Your Spirit Lives on Forever!”

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had grown up with Bowie’s music and described his death as “a huge loss.”

In a music video accompanying Bowie’s new Blackstar album, which was released on his 69th birthday last Friday, the singer was shown in a hospital bed with bandages around his eyes.

Born David Jones in south London two years after the end of World War Two, he took up the saxophone at 13 before changing his name to David Bowie to avoid confusion with the Monkees’ Davy Jones, according to Rolling Stone.

He shot to fame in Britain in 1969 with “Space Oddity,” whose lyrics he said were inspired by watching Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey” while stoned.

Bowie’s hollow lyrics summed up the loneliness of the Cold War space race between the United States and the Soviet Union and coincided with the Apollo landing on the moon.

“Ground Control to Major Tom. Take your protein pills and put your helmet on … For here am I sitting in my tin can. Far above the world. Planet Earth is blue. And there’s nothing I can do.”

“SPACE ODDITY ZIGGY”

But it was Bowie’s 1972 portrayal of a doomed bisexual rock envoy from space, Ziggy Stardust, that propelled him to global stardom. Bowie and Ziggy, wearing outrageous costumes, makeup and bright orange hair, took the rock world by storm.

“Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly,” according to the lyrics which Bowie sang with a red lightning bolt across his face and flamboyant jumpsuits.

“Making love with his ego Ziggy sucked up into his mind. Like a leper messiah,” according the lyrics.

Bowie, ever the innovator ahead of public opinion, told the Melody Maker newspaper in 1972 that he was gay, a step that helped pioneer sexual openness in Britain, which had only decriminalized homosexuality in 1967. Bowie had married in 1970.

He told Playboy four years later he was bisexual, but in the 1980s he told Rolling Stone magazine that the declaration was “the biggest mistake I ever made” and that he was “always a closet heterosexual”.

This was a period which saw Bowie sporting an array of fantastic costumes, some reportedly based on the chilling Kubrick film “A Clockwork Orange”.

Now one of the top transatlantic rock stars, Bowie continued to innovate, helping to produce Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” delving into America’s R&B and working with John Lennon.

“He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way,” said Tony Visconti, the U.S. producer who helped lift Bowie to stardom.

“He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry,” he said.

“LET’S DANCE”

Bowie reinvented himself again in the mid-seventies, adopting a soul and funk sound, and abandoning stack heels for designer suits and flat shoes.

He scored his first U.S. number one with “Fame” and created a new persona, the “Thin White Duke,” for his “Station to Station” album.

But the excesses were taking their toll. In a reference to his prodigious appetite for cocaine, he said: ““I blew my nose one day in California. “And half my brains came out. Something had to be done.”

Bowie moved from the United States to Switzerland and then to Cold War-era Berlin to recuperate, working with Brian Eno from Roxy Music to produce some of his least commercial and most ambitious music, including ““Low” and “”Heroes” in 1977.

In 1983 Bowie changed tack again, signing a multi-million-dollar five-album deal with EMI. The first, “”Let’s Dance,” returned him to chart success and almost paid off his advance.

“If you say run, I’ll run with you. If you say hide, we’ll hide. Because my love for you. Would break my heart in two,” he sang in Let’s Dance.

He starred on Broadway in “The Elephant Man” at the start of the decade and appeared in an array of films including “Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence,” “The Snowman,” “Absolute Beginners” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”.

His love-life fascinated gossip columnists and his marriage to stunning Somali supermodel Iman in 1992 guaranteed headlines.

Bowie kept a low profile after undergoing emergency heart surgery in 2004. It was not widely known that he was fighting cancer.

“Look up here, I’m in heaven,” he sings from a hospital bed in the video accompanying his last album.

“I’ve got scars that can’t be seen. I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen. Everybody knows me now. Look up here, man, I’m in danger. I’ve got nothing left to lose.”