The Chicago Tribune reported that Ebert, who was hospitalized last December after he broke his hip, wrote online on Tuesday that "the 'painful fracture' that made it difficult for me to walk has recently been revealed to be a cancer. It is being treated with radiation, which has made it impossible for me to attend as many movies as I used to."
It is unclear so far what kind of cancer Ebert had been diagnosed with before his death; he had previously been diagnosed with thyroid and salivary gland cancer, but there are no reports as to whether one of these cancers came back, or if a new cancer developed.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Ebert was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002, and salivary gland cancer in 2003. Doctors found cancer in his jaw in 2006, which necessitated the removal of the lower part of his jaw. But a complication after this procedure -- which caused the bursting of his carotid artery -- led to more surgeries, including a tracheostomy that ultimately took away his voice, Esquire reported.
According to the 2010 profile in Esquire, Ebert has gone through so many surgical procedures that he and his wife have lost official count:
He believes he’s had three more surgeries since the removal of his lower jaw; Chaz remembers four. Each time, however many times, surgeons carved bone and tissue and skin from his back, arm and legs and transplanted them in an attempt to reconstruct his jaw and throat. Each time, he had one or two weeks of hope and relief when he could eat a little and drink a little and talk a little. Once, the surgery looked nearly perfect. (“Like a movie star,” Chaz remembers.) But each time, the reconstructive work fell apart and had to be stripped out, the hole opened up again.
At the beginning of 2011, Ebert debuted a collar-like silicone prosthetic chin and new voice technology from CereProc, according to ABC News.
"We wanted to design a prosthesis that would elevate his lower jaw or chin area," University of Illinois Medical Center's Dr. David Reisberg, who was part of the team that developed Ebert's chin, told ABC News. "It wasn't so much because he wanted to look better, but he felt that other people would be more comfortable dealing with him."
In the wake of his death, Ebert's candidness with his cancer is lauded. Dr. Michael Neuss, who is the chief medical officer at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, told ABC News that Ebert "broadened our understanding of cancer based on his incredible courage and incredible strength and genuine demeanor through this tough time. ... It has to show people that we do treat cancer patients and that things do happen, but you keep going." And Matthew Herper, who covers medicine for Forbes, called Ebert a "voice for all those who face cancer bravely."