Albert Finney’s kidney cancer treatments

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

Albert Finney was an English actor best remembered for his Academy-Award-nominated roles as the lawyer in Erin Brockovich, Geoffrey Firmin in Under the Volcano, Sir in The Dresser, Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express, and the title role in the 1963 classic, Tom Jones.  He also played Daddy Warbucks in Annie, Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm, and dozens of other notable roles in film, television and the theatre.  He won three Golden Globe awards, two BAFTA awards, an Emmy and a SAG award. At age 64, he turned down an opportunity to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth, saying that this honors system was a way of “perpetuating snobbery.”  

Finney performed steadily from 1960 until 2007 when at age 71, he dropped out of sight.  He  returned to acting five years later and announced that he had been treated for kidney cancer with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.  He died on February 7, 2019, from a lung infection that most likely was brought on by the cancer treatments he had received that suppressed his immune system’s ability to fight germs. 

Albert Finney

Early Life and Acting Career

Finney was born in 1936 to a father who supported the family as a bookmaker, which fostered in Finney a life-long interest in betting on horse races and owning race horses. The family lived in a cramped row house in a factory town that was bombed frequently by the Germans during World War II.   Finney attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where at age 20, he starred in his first major role as Troilus in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.  At age 22, he became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.  At age 24, he appeared with Laurence Olivier in his first film, The Entertainer, which led to many starring roles in stage plays and films. He even sang in two musicals, Scrooge and Annie.  At age 66, he won BAFTA, Golden Globe and Emmy awards as Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm

His Prodigious Love Life

At age 21, while working with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company, he met and married  English actress Jane Wenham, who was nine years older than him, and they had a son, Simon Finney. They divorced four years later because he was having an affair with actress Zoe Caldwell. At age 31 he was romantically linked to Audrey Hepburn while they co-starred in Two for the Road.  At age 34, he starred in The Picasso Summer and met French actress, Anouk Aimee.  They married after she divorced her third husband, but she left Finney five years later when she fell in love with Ryan O’Neal. They divorced three years later in 1978, when Finney was living with Diana Quick, another English actress. He stayed with Quick for seven years and they separated in the 1980s.  He also was rumored to have had relationships with Jacqueline Bissett, Joan Baez, Carly Simon and many others.  In 1990, at age 54, he started seeing Penelope Delmage, a travel agent, and they married in 2006 and stayed together until his death.  In 2002, he told an interviewer that he “still liked to flirt, but there was no longer intent behind it [because of Delmage]. I was a great womanizer and I used to deal in bulk. There is nothing wrong with that. Why not? It was a lot of fun.”  

Kidney Cancer

In 2007 at age 71, Finney was diagnosed as having kidney cancer that was treated with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.  These treatments suppress the immune system and ability to kill invading germs to markedly increase susceptibility to developing an infection. 

Everyone makes millions of cancer cells every day, but your immune system, which protects you from invading germs, can tell that cancer cells are different from normal cells and kills these cancer cells. You develop cancer when your immune system fails to recognize that cancer cells have different surface proteins than normal cells do, and allows these cancer cells to live and grow in your body.  It is very serious when cancer spreads from its original site to other parts of your body, because this happens when your immune system no longer can recognize, search out, and destroy cancer cells. 

Cancer Treatments Can Increase Risk for Infections

The American Cancer Society has published detailed explanations of cancer treatments that affect the immune system and thus increase risk for infections .

• Surgery can suppress the immune system, since chemicals the body uses to kill germs are diverted to be used to heal tissue damaged by extensive surgery. 

• Chemotherapy can suppress the body’s ability to make white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, and immune proteins that kill germs.

• Radiation therapy suppresses bone marrow cells, white blood cell counts and immune proteins.

• Immunotherapy is supposed to increase your immune system’s ability to recognize and kill cancer cells.  However, sometimes it does the opposite and suppresses your immunity to increase risk for infections. 

• Transplants of stem cells, bone marrow, peripheral blood stem cells and umbilical cord blood stem cells are often given after a person has been given massive doses of poisons to kill the cancer. For example, chemotherapy kills both cancer and normal cells, so the transplants are given to replace a person’s normal cells that have been killed by the chemotherapy. 

Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer

Risk factors for kidney cancer include older age, smoking, alcohol, and excess weight. Finney got his kidney cancer at 71, smoked and drank heavily, and was overweight during the later part of his life.  It is very likely that he had high blood pressure, another risk factor.

My Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle Recommendations

If you are receiving or have received treatments for any type of cancer, your doctor should explain to you that healthful lifestyle habits are critical to your successful recovery.  

• Eat a diet that is high in anti-inflammatory foods

• Try to exercise every day

• Avoid being overweight

• Avoid tobacco

• Restrict or avoid alcohol

Anti-inflammatory foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains (not ground into flour). beans, coffee, tea, and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna or sardines.  Pro-inflammatory foods to restrict include sweetened beverages and sugar-added foods, foods made with flour and other refined carbohydrates, red meat (meat from mammals), processed meats, fried foods, butter and margarine.

More on Anti-Inflammatory and Pro-Inflammatory Foods 

Also see Cancer Treatment Should Include Heart Attack Prevention

Cancer Treatment Should Include Lifestyle Improvements

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com