Did Lincoln have a rare cancer? One researcher thinks so

Would have cancer killed Lincoln?: An author/physician theorizes that Abraham Lincoln would have soon died from a rare form of cancer if he had not been assassinated at Ford's Theater in 1865.
Would have cancer killed Lincoln?: An author/physician theorizes that Abraham Lincoln would have soon died from a rare form of cancer if he had not been assassinated at Ford's Theater in 1865.Courtesy Civics Online
I just finished reading an incredible book about Abraham Lincoln – Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln -- by Doris Kearns Godwin. Of course, it ends with his assassination at Ford’s Theater right after the end of the Civil War.

Much to my surprise today, I come across a headline that at the time of his death, Lincoln may have only had about six months to live due to the effects of a rare type of cancer. Doctor/author John G. Sotos makes the case for Lincoln’s cancer diagnosis in an upcoming book.

One thing that struck me in Team of Rivals, which is written based on thousands of letters and diaries written by Lincoln’s associates during the time he was alive, was that most were first impressed and/or put off by his unusual appearance. Sotos theorizes that those appearances were related to Lincoln’s cancer.

Sotos thinks Lincoln suffered from MEN 2B, a genetic form of cancer that can account for unusual height along with unusual facial features – lumps of nervous tissue on the eyelids, tongue and lips. Sotos also thinks one of Lincoln’s sons died from the same type of cancer

And CSI-type techniques may come into play to see if Sotos is right. A small sampling of DNA is all that ‘s needed to check the condition of chromosome 10 of Lincoln’s genetic code to see if it shows signs of MEN 2B. Samples of his DNA can be collected from any of the many blood-stained fabrics that have been preserved from Lincoln’s death, or from the eight skull fragments that were preserved from the president’s autopsy.

If it is determined that Lincoln had MEN 2B, he’d be the earliest recorded case of that type of cancer. But as news of this theory has spread, there are already other members of the medical community saying that it isn’t possible.

What do you think? Should efforts be made to test some of Lincoln’s remains for MEN 2B? Or should we leave the remains alone and keep it a mystery? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

If you want to learn more about this, here’s the link to an extensive Washington Post article on the topic.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

The Washington Post article is fascinating but I was more intrigued by the discussion between the author of the theory and the readers.

Thor, you mention that :

But as news of this theory has spread, there are already other members of the medical community saying that it isn’t possible.

Do you know what they are objecting to? In one of the Washington Post discussion questions someone mentions that:

"The vast majority of causative mutations (in the RET protooncogene) of MEN 2b are limited. It is not problematic to test tissue samples for such mutations."

I didn't follow exactly what that meant but I am guessing that even if he did have MEN 2b then the tests could still come up negative. Could that be the crux of their argument?

posted on Wed, 11/28/2007 - 11:27am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

how could he have had cancer? he was shot

posted on Wed, 12/05/2007 - 2:11pm
August's picture
August says:

Yeah! Unless he got shot in the cancer.

You know what this is like? That movie Phenomenon. Except, instead of getting mental powers like John Travolta, Lincoln got political powers.
Didn't that movie end with Travolta getting shot at the theater? Or was that just how I wanted it to end?

posted on Wed, 12/05/2007 - 6:48pm
ktur1101's picture
ktur1101 says:

he could have had cancer but was still shot that pretty simple. He was sick and he got shot that sucks but it could be true.

posted on Mon, 11/10/2008 - 12:27pm
guest100's picture
guest100 says:

You do realize that cancer does not kill instantaneously?! Lincoln could well have had the cancer in his body which would have killed him in 6 months except for the fact that he was shot.

posted on Mon, 04/13/2015 - 10:52pm
diamond2008's picture
diamond2008 says:

why are they just tellin us now?

posted on Wed, 03/26/2008 - 2:56pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

International conspiracy. NWO. Advanced diagnostic techniques, and doctor historians with time on their hands. Illuminati.

posted on Wed, 03/26/2008 - 3:01pm
ktur1101's picture
ktur1101 says:

cute dog

posted on Mon, 11/10/2008 - 12:28pm
diamond2008's picture
diamond2008 says:

I think that's not true how rude that people are saying that

posted on Thu, 05/15/2008 - 10:13am
Stew47's picture
Stew47 says:

Leave it alone and let it remain a mystery..Is there anything to gain from testing his blood, can they find a cure for it...if not then let it alone

posted on Thu, 10/16/2008 - 3:53pm
Ahus1102's picture
Ahus1102 says:

I blieve Lincols was a great presedent and there is nothing more to talk about.

posted on Sun, 10/19/2008 - 10:18am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

one question: does it matter? will knowing if Abe had some strange illness how many years ago change anything today? even if he did have this cancer, is there enough of him to make it a worthwhile study?

as far as i'm concerned, it was a bullet that killed him. not cancer. lets leave it at that, eh?

- Franke -

posted on Sun, 10/19/2008 - 12:08pm
EWatson02's picture
EWatson02 says:

Something that should be considered: do Abe's living descendants want to know? I honestly think it should be left up to them. I think it would be cool to know, but the family might not agree. That was why Van Buren was exhumed and tested for arsenic poisoning: the family got excited about it and wanted to know.

Also, at least we don't actually have to exhume Abe's body in order to get this testing done. After all, aren't his remains buried under something like ten feet of concrete?

posted on Sun, 10/19/2008 - 10:14pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

it took em a while!

posted on Fri, 10/24/2008 - 7:58pm
let him live (stay dead) in peace's picture
let him live (stay dead) in peace says:

he died...for the most part he was a good president...let's just leave it at that

posted on Sat, 10/25/2008 - 4:56pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

he died al little after the shot

posted on Sat, 11/01/2008 - 12:39pm
DO's picture
DO says:

He died the next day. Another author with an unproveable theory making money off of a historical figure.

posted on Fri, 11/07/2008 - 2:24pm
mmoh1009's picture
mmoh1009 says:

i dont think so... he looks normal to me!

posted on Mon, 11/10/2008 - 12:30pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

let the man rest in peace.

posted on Thu, 02/12/2009 - 7:30am
TamaraTamara's picture
TamaraTamara says:

As a Lincoln decendent, I believe that the Lincolns suffered from something more similar to Spino Cerebellar Ataxia Type 5, as I have symptoms similar to this. However, I think this mutates to a very large degree. I have pictures of the Lincoln family members from the early 1800s, who were all blind and the Census records to back this up. However, my mother, a decendent also, had thyroid cancer. All I am interested in is a cure or some great relief. I once read that Lincoln's hand was numb after his day at Gettysburg. I have this symptom. Also, I prefer sleeping flat of my back and lying perfectly straight for comfort - much like a corpse without the pillow. Anyway, I would like an answer to all of it. Tamara

posted on Thu, 02/12/2009 - 10:45am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think they should test the blood. To learn about history you dont just need to learn about the past. You need to know what led up to the event, why it took place, who was involved, how it changed the future, how it could have been changed,and the list goes on and on. People who really have a passion for learning history have a kind of thirst to know everyting they can and even though we are just now learning about this cancer it is (or will be) a part of history.

posted on Wed, 04/22/2009 - 4:36pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Mr. Lincoln, now there is a subject to discuss. In my humble opinion, he was one of THE greatest men in our history. To say I am an admirer would be an understatement. Why not? Would be my question. Yes, a mad man shot him and that was the direct cause of his death. Do we stop searching, do we stop questioning the past? I think not. I believe Mr. Lincoln, would be the first to say lets look at the facts and find something. Especially when it comes to medical research and history, how does medical science learn, if not from the past. If there is enough evidence remain- ing to move forward on this study, go for it. "OUR" beloved President will continue to do good works.

posted on Fri, 07/16/2010 - 8:30am
guest100's picture
guest100 says:

Many times the question has been posed: what would America have been like if Lincoln had not been shot? Should it be found that cancer would have killed him anyway in 6 months, then history would have remained unchanged. In fact, it could be argued that Lincoln may have been spared a more agonizing, slow death by being shot. Cancer in the brain is NOT kind and they did not have the painkillers back then as we do today.

posted on Mon, 04/13/2015 - 10:56pm

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