When Saved by the Bell actor Dustin Diamond, a professed non-smoker, died earlier this month at age 44 after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, it threw a spotlight on a phenomenon that’s alarming some oncology experts. The former child star, who also starred in the show’s spinoffs, including Good Morning Miss Bliss and Saved by the Bell: The College Years, was one of about 25 percent of Americans who die from lung cancer each year and who are not smokers. The disease is typically associated with heavy smoking, but it can also affect people who have never smoked or only smoked for a short time, according to healthline.
Lung cancer can be difficult to detect at an early stage because it often does not cause symptoms until it reaches an advanced state. It can spread to the lungs, lymph nodes, blood, and other parts of the body, which is what happened with Diamond. “The cancer metastasized from his lungs to the rest of his body,” oncologist Dr. Henry S. Park said in an article for Healthline. “This is very common for this type of cancer, especially in younger people.”
The pain that Diamond was experiencing throughout his body indicated that the cancer had already spread from its initial point of origin, and he had likely only begun treatment when the illness reached an advanced stage. Moreover, the fact that his cancer was detected in the neck suggests that it may have spread from the lungs to the throat or the chest area.
It’s unclear what led to the diagnosis, but a rep for Diamond told TMZ that he speculated his years spent traveling for stand-up comedy gigs and acting in TV shows and movies, which required him to stay in hotels and motels, might have played a role in his death. This could have resulted in his breathing in mold and other contaminants, which can lead to respiratory problems and eventually cancer.
Despite his young age, Diamond had lived a full life. In addition to his career in television and film, he also dabbled in stand-up comedy and appeared on several reality shows, including Celebrity Big Brother, Celebrity Fit Club, The Weakest Link, and Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling. He was also involved in professional wrestling as a wrestler, referee, and manager, and he founded his own wrestling promotion.
The news of his passing was met with tributes from his costars, including Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tiffany Thiessen. The former co-stars, who play Screech and Kelly Kapowski in the NBC hit series, were among those to pay their respects on social media. The show ran for four seasons from 1989 to 1993 and saw several spinoffs, including the upcoming Saved by the Bell: A New Class reboot that will premiere in 2020. The cast will reunite to shoot the pilot.