Olivia Williams – Neuroendocrine Cancer (VIPoma)


Well known UK actress Olivia Williams has been diagnosed with a functioning pancreatic NET called a VIPoma. She played Bruce Willis’ wife in the blockbuster Sixth Sense in 1999. She is also known for her roles in TV dramas such as ITV’s The Halcyon and American science fiction thriller series Counterpart.  And she was on the set in California when her biopsy result came though confirming the pNET.  The doctors, who I believe were from Cedars Sinai even said “It’s not pancreatic cancer, it might be a neuroendocrine tumour”. She finally got surgery in Kings College London.  Read the Vogue article hereSo glad she finally got it sorted after 4 years (great story inside).  

However, she was shortly after asked to be an ambassador for Pancreatic Cancer UK. She said she was happy to help but pointed out she wasn’t really famous enough to raise lots of money. They replied that she wasn’t being asked because she was famous, she was being asked because there are so few survivors”.  Well that’s slightly misleading because they were clearly inferring ‘Pancreatic Cancer’. #aaghhh
Another frustrating thing about the 3 articles I read, they all refer to Pancreatic Cancer – UK Daily Mail ran a full section on the dangers of Pancreatic Cancer which is totally misleading to the actual cancer Olivia had and is therefore misguided advice. And as usual, Steve Jobs and Aretha Franklin get hooked in to the story inferring they too had Pancreatic Cancer.  OK Neuroendocrine is mentioned in the article but the inference is that it’s a type of Pancreatic Cancer sending the wrong messages on symptoms, therapy and prognostics, and of course many people only read the headline.  Read about the differences by clicking here.

Since writing this, well done to Neuroendocrine Cancer UK, who have managed to persuade Olivia to take part in their awareness and she did their “2point6 challenge” – well done guys!  Click here to see Olivia’s video

Good to see her get on with her life and she secured a part as Camilla Parker Bowles in the hit series The Crown, not yet screened but due out later this year.  Click the picture to see the news report. 

credit Getty Images

However, this is a confusing and rather unhelpful awareness for Neuroendocrine Cancer. In her defence, she’s representing Pancreatic Cancer as one of their Ambassadors, so it would have been awkward to plug a “different cancer”. She was there to discuss Pancreatic Cancer UKs #TransformLivesPrescribe campaign, helping to get pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) for Pancreatic Cancer patients, a very worthy cause. 

But the ITV’s banner below is yet another misleading description of a famous person with Neuroendocrine Cancer.

Thanks for reading.


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9 thoughts on “Olivia Williams – Neuroendocrine Cancer (VIPoma)

  • Margaret Murray

    Ive been diagnosed with a Nets Tumor on tail end of Pancreas very small,symptoms flushing and reoccurring rash etc, surgeon won’t Operate because of my age I’m 80years old but a young 80.they are keeping an eye on it, I want them to do the Op.before it gets any worse, and while I’m still well, Please what are your thoughts, I’m so frustrated.Margaret,Australia.

    • Difficult situation – surgeons always consider age and “do no harm”. Glucagonoma, a functional pNET is mostly found on the tail of the pancreas. There’s a connection with rashes. Have you had any hormone tests for the pancreas? Glucagon is one of them.

  • Haringey Council in London has signed up to raise awareness of Nets, this needs to be on a bigger platform to explain the difference and help to prevent confusion.

  • Judy Wilkinson

    What’s needed is a high level debate on prime-time TV at about pNETs vs pancreatic cancer. If these famous actors and doctors like the Mayo oncologist who has it would come on board then awareness would be raised. Just need a contact in the BBC who knows someone with it to organise it. I live in Australia but I wrote to Boris and the UK Health Minister etc etc re: 2019 World NET Cancer Day but because of Brexit no one responding 🙂

    • Try again in 6 months! Not sure knowledge is the issue. The issue is doctor parlance which is then mimicked by the media without any context. Doctors are part of the problem.

  • A good article, and can totally relate to the ‘I told you I was ill’, but once again they focus gets shifted to the organ type rather than the cancer type, so frustrating…

  • Isabel

    Oh God, not again! More harm than good can be done by the confusion and lack of rigour. It’s a bit like saying gastroenteritis and dysentery are the same disease. And yes, like macherie48, I think it would be a good idea to contact her. Onwards!

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