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Four Phils and brain cancer: Connection or coincidence?


Tom Avril –

UPDATE: With the passing of Darren Daulton to brain cancer, fans will remember he was not the only Phillie of the Veterans Stadium era with the disease. When he was diagnosed in 2013, we ran the numbers and talked to experts. Was it a coincidence?

Tug McGraw. John Vukovich. Johnny Oates. And now Darren Daulton.

All four played for the Phillies at Veterans Stadium, and all four developed brain cancer. Is there a connection?


The rate of brain cancers in team members from that era appears to be about three times the rate in the adult male population, according to an Inquirer analysis that was reviewed by a University of Pennsylvania epidemiologist.

And that elevated rate of brain cancer is statistically significant, though the analysis had certain limitations and the pattern easily could be due to chance, said Penn’s Timothy R. Rebbeck.

“These figures suggest that there’s an elevated risk of brain cancers in the baseball players compared to the general population,” said Rebbeck, a professor of epidemiology at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. “You can’t rule out the possibility that it’s random bad luck.”


The team did not respond to requests for comment.

Brain cancer can be caused by radiation and by certain rare genetic mutations, but the evidence for most other potential causes is unclear.

Studies suggest that estrogen and related hormones can protect against the development of brain cancer in women, said Geoffrey C. Kabat, senior epidemiologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

So it would be reasonable to examine whether anabolic steroids, which are related to those hormones, could play some role in brain cancer, Rebbeck said.

Occupational scientists also have looked to see whether any health issues are associated with synthetic turf, as some older kinds contained small amounts of contaminants such as lead, but there is no known link between the artificial surfaces and brain cancer.

The Inquirer identified 533 men who played for the Phillies between 1971 and 2003, and tallied the number of years they have been alive since then. For those who had died, the dates of death were taken from

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