Behind the Cancer that Killed Robert Redford’s Son

By Sara Bondell - October 25, 2020

James Redford, a filmmaker and son of film icon Robert Redford, died from bile duct cancer, type of liver cancer, at age 58.

James was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease as a child that affected his liver and received two liver transplants in the 1990s. His liver disease had returned two years ago and cancer was discovered last fall while he was awaiting another liver transplant.

Bile duct cancer, also called cholangiocarcinoma, is a rare malignancy that forms in the bile ducts, a network of tubes that connect the liver, gallbladder and small intestine. Only about 8,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year. While it can occur at a younger age, it is more common in the elderly.

People, like James, who have chronic conditions that cause bile duct inflammation have an increased risk of developing bile duct cancer. Other risk factors include obesity, diabetes, cirrhosis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Mintallah Haider, MD, gastrointestinal medical oncologist
Mintallah Haider, MD, gastrointestinal medical oncologist

“Cancer that comes from the biliary ducts is on the rise,” said Dr. Mintallah Haider, a medical oncologist in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “This could be because of increased incidence of fatty liver disease or because the pathology to diagnose the disease has become more accurate.”

Only a small percentage of bile duct cancer patients are eligible for surgery. Other treatments include chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy and immunotherapy. For some with early stage unresectable disease, a liver transplant may be an option. 

“One of the most important resources for patients with bile duct cancers is access to a multidisciplinary team like we have at Moffitt” said Haider. “This allows for a comprehensive review of all options to each individual patient.”

James had founded the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness, a nonprofit aimed at educating the public about organ and tissue donation.

A spokesperson for Robert Redford said the actor is mourning with his family. “Jamie was a loving son, husband and father. His legacy lives on through his children, art, filmmaking and devoted passion to conversation and the environment.”

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Sara Bondell Medical Science Writer More Articles


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