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David Brown

Tony Gwynn suspects his cancer comes from chewing tobacco

David Brown
Big League Stew

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Former San Diego Padres great Tony Gwynn revealed he has cancer of the parotid salivary gland, and he suspects linkage between the disease and his use of chewing tobacco.

This is stunning news, even if you already knew that Gwynn — who's just 50 years old — had surgery for a non-malignant parotid tumor in 1997 and 2007.

Neither of those times did doctors find cancer, but when Gwynn went back for another surgery in September, it was a different story.

From the San Diego Union Tribune:

"[T]his time they found a malignancy," [Gwynn said.] "They took out three lymph nodes and did all the tests and the results showed cancer in the parotid.

"The doctors have told me they feel they caught the cancer early and there was not much of it there."

That's good.

The parotid gland is responsible for regulating the flow of saliva into the mouth.
Gwynn, somewhat cryptically, said doctors call his form of cancer is "slow moving but aggressive."

"I'm going to be aggressive and not slow moving in treating this," said Gwynn, who soon will begin radiation and chemotherapy treatments that are expected to last 7-8 weeks.

Gwynn also wants to investigate what role tobacco played in his illness.

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"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."

Well, that narrows it down.

Gwynn's logic rings true, even if it hasn't be proved — yet. Other forms of cancer have been linked to chewing tobacco.

I'm usually against telling an adult they can't do something like smoke or dip, but if the minor leagues can ban the practice — which they have — then hopefully it also will be negotiated into the collective bargaining agreement for the major leaguers.

Update: Bill Rogan writes in his blog that the minor league ban is hollow, at best. What he says rings true.

Regardless, if big leaguers someday aren't seen at ballparks chewing up and spitting out disgusting wads of tobacco, then maybe fewer kids will think it's cool and copy the practice.

And then maybe at least one person out there won't get cancer because of chewing tobacco.

[Rewind: Actor Michael Douglas discusses his throat cancer on Letterman]

Hopefully, Gwynn also can use his recovery from cancer as a starting point to get in better health overall. He's been walking with a cane because of back problems that probably are made worse because of his weight.

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Back in the day, Gwynn was a great athlete; He played NCAA basketball as a point guard, he once stole 56 bases for the Padres and had a great arm in right. He also hit .394 in 1994, the closest anyone has come to .400 since Ted Williams.

Elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2007, Gwynn won eight batting titles and finished with 3,141 hits — 18th all-time — and has an adjusted OPS of +132. He won five Gold Gloves and is eighth all-time in outfield assists.

A street alongside PETCO Park in San Diego bears his name. His statue stands in a park just outside of the stadium.

He's been the head baseball coach at San Diego State — his alma mater — since 2003.

In short, he is treasured in San Diego and it would be a shame to lose him so soon.

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Follow Dave on Twitter — @AnswerDave

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