Tony Gwynn's Cancer Surgery Should Be a Warning Sign to Tobacco Chewers

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2012

7 Oct 01: San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn #19 stands with his wife Alicia during Gwynn's retirement ceremonies following his final game, versus the Colorado Rockies at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.   DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit:  Stephen Dunn/Allsport
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Tony Gwynn, who spent his 20-year Major League Baseball career tormenting pitchers, is dealing with a much more serious adversary right now.

The Hall of Famer had successful surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his right cheek. 

According to a report by Tom Friend of ESPN, he was in the operating room for 14 hours on Tuesday and doctors don't believe that the cancer has spread. It took five doctors to complete the surgery.

According to Gwynn's wife, Alicia, the doctors performed a complex nerve-graft procedure, removing Gwynn's facial nerve and replacing it with a nerve from Gwynn's shoulder.

Alicia Gwynn said her husband came out of surgery at 1 a.m. PT Wednesday, and that doctors told her they had entirely removed the cancerous growth from his parotid gland.

While there are a lot of factors that contribute to someone getting cancer, Gwynn has gone on record as saying that he knows his battle with the disease can be directly attributed to his self-described addiction to smokeless tobacco. 

Here is what Gwynn told Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune, as well as what the doctor had to say about it, in October 2010, after he was first diagnosed:

“I haven’t discussed that with the doctors yet, but I’m thinking it’s related to dipping,” said Gwynn, who resumed the practice of using chewing tobacco after the first two surgeries.

Dr. Kevin Brumund, a neck and throat specialist at the UCSD Moores Cancer Center, said there have been no studies showing a link between parotid cancer and chewing tobacco.

“There is a wide spectrum of prognosis for the malignant parotid carcinomas,” said Dr. Brumund. “Most parotid tumors are benign. And the prognosis runs the spectrum.”

It is pretty telling that Gwynn directly attributes his disease to his tobacco addiction. This could serve as a cautionary tale for baseball players—or anyone who has a problem with it—that feels the desire to keep dipping. 

Gwynn is locked in a battle with cancer, but he should make a full recovery. Friend's report even said that he was laughing, talking and drinking water early Wednesday morning. 

All things considered, he is very lucky.

But, not everyone will be as fortunate. Human beings like to think they are invincible when they are in the prime of their life, like Gwynn was when he was dipping heavily.

Gwynn's case is a cautionary tale for anyone else who has to relax by chewing tobacco.