Study Suggests Napoleon Died of Advanced Gastric Cancer

New analysis may end speculation on Napoleon's death

THURSDAY, Jan. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Napoleon Bonaparte probably died from advanced gastric cancer, according to a case study published in the January issue of Nature Clinical Practice: Gastroenterology & Hepatology, which seeks to put to rest 200 years of speculation that the "Le Petit Corporal's" death was due to arsenic poisoning.

To determine whether Napoleon died of hereditary gastric cancer, arsenic poisoning, inappropriate medical care or another cause, Robert M. Genta, M.D., of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and colleagues used modern pathological and tumor-staging methods along with historical accounts of Napolean and his family members' deaths. Napoleon died on May 5, 1821, while he was in exile on St. Helena, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean.

The investigators conclude that Napoleon likely had a stage IIIA gastric cancer. A 10-centimeter tumor was present that extended from the cardia to the pylorus, but did not infiltrate any adjacent structures. His main risk factor was likely Helicobacter pylori infection, not family history, due to the description of a prepyloric ulcer. A report of a stomach filled with dark material that looked like coffee grounds suggests that a massive gastric bleed was likely the immediate cause of death.

"This clinicopathologic reconstruction implies that even if the former Emperor had been released or had escaped from St. Helena before 1821, his terminal condition would have prevented him from having a further major role in the theater of European history," the researchers conclude.

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