Robin Roberts' History With Cancer Explained

No one ever expects to get diagnosed with cancer once, let alone twice. For "Good Morning America" host Robin Roberts, however, the unexpected happened — she was diagnosed with both breast cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare blood disorder, within five years of each other (via Cure).

In 2007, Roberts received a diagnosis of breast cancer, despite having no family history of it. She went through chemotherapy and was getting regular checkups when, five years later, her medical team discovered she had myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Roberts has been vocal about her experiences with cancer on the air to help others feel less alone, citing her mother's encouragement as the reason for wanting to be of service where she can.

Now 61, Roberts says that while she doesn't like to use the word "remission," she's feeling strong and clear-headed after treatments. Heartbreakingly, Roberts' longtime partner, Amber Laign, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer herself, which Roberts spoke out about in April 2022 (via PEOPLE). Since she and her partner have now experienced both sides of cancer as patients and caregivers, they're able to help each other through it.

Triple-negative breast cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome

Roberts was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which means that cancer cells don't have receptors for the hormones estrogen or progesterone and don't produce very much HER2 protein (via This means that it's typically more aggressive and harder to treat because it doesn't respond well to hormonal therapy medicines or drugs that focus on the HER2 protein. Triple-negative breast cancer makes up 10-15% of all breast cancers, and those at higher risk include Black women, women under the age of 40, and women who have the BRCA1 genetic mutation.

Later, she was diagnosed with MDS, a condition in which cells in the bone marrow don't function properly (via American Cancer Society). There are different types of MDS, but it's usually characterized by a low red blood cell count. This is because the cells in the bone marrow have trouble making new blood cells, often creating defective cells that die off quickly. It used to be referred to as "pre-leukemia," since one-in-three cases can progress to a form of leukemia, but it's currently considered a type of cancer itself.

Roberts' breast cancer diagnosis

Roberts was shocked to discover she had breast cancer in 2007 — she was healthy, happy, and had no family history of it, she told Cure. She was used to doing self-exams, so when she felt a lump in her right breast, she knew she needed it to be examined. However, she had dense breast tissue, and her mammogram came back totally normal. Dense breast tissue can make cancer harder to detect on mammograms, so her doctor ordered an ultrasound (via American Cancer Society). The scan revealed a tumor, which was biopsied and found to be cancerous.

Roberts said that after announcing that she had breast cancer on national television, she slept better that night than she had since her diagnosis. She felt relief about not hiding it anymore and could feel her viewers' prayers and support. Roberts' particular form of cancer meant that treatment needed to be aggressive. It ultimately saved her life, but also led to her diagnosis of MDS.

A diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome

In 2012, "Good Morning America" was named the top morning show in the country. Later that same day, Roberts was diagnosed with MDS, she told the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). In rare cases, the type of chemotherapy she received to treat her breast cancer can cause MDS, which it did in her case (via Cure). She recalled everyone going to a rooftop party to celebrate the news, and she wondered if it would be one of her last celebrations (via AARP). She was told she had one-to-two years to live and was afraid to tell anyone.

She eventually decided that she could make her cancer experience a "teachable moment" — right before a live fashion show on "Good Morning America," she unexpectedly took her wig off, walking the runway with a bald head. Viewers shared with Roberts that it helped them believe that if she could be okay with cancer, they could, too.

Roberts would need a bone marrow transplant if she wanted to live, doctors told her (via PEOPLE). Her sister ended up being a match, and Roberts got choked up on "Rachel Ray." She recalled telling her that she didn't have to go through with it if she was having second thoughts. Luckily, her sister was willing to be her donor, and Roberts was able to receive the bone marrow transplant surgery that saved her life.

Using her platform for good

Roberts has used her platform to open up about her experiences with cancer, hoping to help educate others and inspire them to get screened. She teamed up with Be The Match, an organization that facilitates bone marrow and umbilical cord blood transplants. Roberts encouraged them to join the registry by asking the question, ​​"If you had the power to save a life, would you?" (via Be The Match). In 2012, more than 44,000 people had already joined.

In 2022, Roberts shared about her partner Amber Laign's diagnosis of breast cancer, who recently had to pause her chemotherapy treatment due to complications (via PEOPLE). Despite that, Roberts remains hopeful that Laign's prognosis is good, and said that she can offer her a roadmap for the experience, having lived through it herself. Likewise, Laign is able to offer her a roadmap for helping a loved one through the diagnosis. Roberts again took advantage of her platform to advocate for screenings, encouraging others to get their annual checkups, as Laign had put off her appointment due to the pandemic.

A hopeful outlook

Devastatingly, Roberts' mother passed away just a week before her bone marrow transplant in 2012, but miraculously, Roberts has continued to remain hopeful (via Cure). She believes that optimism is a habit and a mindset, and that if you want to believe the best is yet to come, you need to have courage. She told Cure that her mom always inspired her to make her "mess" her "message," and was grateful to her for that wisdom.

Roberts received the prestigious Peabody Award, recognizing "Good Morning America" and ABC for being of service to others. Because of Roberts' public service messaging, more people are getting tested. They continue to send her messages about how her experience has helped them with their own life challenges.

Despite two different cancer diagnoses, her mother's passing, and now her partner's diagnosis, Roberts says she chooses to "let faith answer the door." Her message to anyone who is diagnosed with cancer or loves someone with cancer is to have faith — and remember that we're all a little stronger than we think we are.