‘Medical sleuth’ speculates Lincoln may have been dying of cancer
Baltimore ? Maybe it’s the classic story about the underdog who strives to be great. Perhaps it’s the sad eyes of the first president to be assassinated. Whatever the reason, Abraham Lincoln has become a figure who is scrutinized and speculated on over and over again.
Some have speculated that Lincoln suffered from depression, had syphilis or was gay. Others wonder why Lincoln was so tall and his body so lanky.
And now Dr. John Sotos, a California cardiologist dubbed by some as a “medical sleuth,” is theorizing that the 16th president was dying from cancer, with only six months to a year left to live, from a rare genetic syndrome, known as MEN 2B.
Sotos spent Wednesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital sharing his findings with the medical community. For years, some doctors believe Lincoln had Marfan Syndrome, which affects the body’s connective tissue and causes long limbs.
“With Abraham Lincoln, he was tall, he was very big,” said Charis Eng, a genetics cancer expert at the Cleveland Clinic. “It looked like he had (Marfan syndrome).”
But the medical puzzle only becomes more complicated. Eng said Lincoln’s height and his long limbs could be a clue that the diagnosis was entirely something else. With MEN 2B, “patients look as if they have Marfan’s, even though they do not,” said Eng, who discovered the gene while at the University of Cambridge during the early 1990s.
Instead, Lincoln suffered from MEN 2B, which Eng called “quite rare.” Sotos said that the syndrome makes bumps, or benign tumors of nerve tissue, grow on victims’ lips. About one person out of every million has the disease, he said.
The syndrome also causes cancer in organs, like the thyroid, that produce hormones, and Sotos said he believes Lincoln was dying of cancer when he was shot in 1865.
Sotos said he looked at 130 Lincoln photographs as well as plaster face and hand masks taken of Lincoln that are stored in the National Portrait Gallery. Sotos said the bumps on Lincoln’s lips are clearly visible.
It was also well-known that Lincoln was often constipated. “Amazingly enough, this was the topic of conversation among all of his law partners,” he said. With MEN 2B, the same lumps on the lips and cheeks can also grow inside the intestines, causing gastrointestinal problems.
The signs that Lincoln was dying of cancer are there, too, Sotos said, from Lincoln’s weight loss to his crippling headaches to his cold hands and feet. “Something was happening,” Sotos said. “We don’t have the smoking gun for cancer, but again, everything seems consistent with it.”
MEN 2B ran through the Lincoln family line, Sotos said. There’s too much coincidence that two of Lincoln’s sons had the same lesions on their lips, as seen in photographs, and died at young ages, Sotos said.
Eng said the controversial new theory sounded possible, and the doctors at Johns Hopkins listened to Sotos’ findings with interest.
But some numbers don’t add up, as even Sotos acknowledged. Lincoln was 56 years old when he was shot in Ford’s Theatre, which is old for someone suffering with MEN 2B. Most with the syndrome develop cancer in their 20s and die about 10 years later, although no large medical studies have thoroughly examined the age connection with MEN 2B.