Colorado Quarterback Aunese Is Said to Have Stomach Cancer

Times Staff Writer

Sal Aunese, the University of Colorado’s starting quarterback, has inoperable stomach cancer, according to a doctor’s diagnosis.

The diagnosis was confirmed after a biopsy this week revealed that the cancer has spread to his lungs and the lymph nodes near the lungs, team physician Dr. Wayne Gersoff said Thursday.

“It is a bad tumor to have,” Gersoff said by telephone from his Denver office. “To be honest, compared to other types, we are not as successful at treating this cancer as we are with others.”

Aunese, a junior from Vista High School in San Diego County, was admitted to University Hospital in Denver Sunday after complaining for several weeks of a respiratory problem.


“Initially, we felt he had a bad cold,” Gersoff said.

A chest X-ray was taken Sunday, and further tests revealed a stomach tumor, Gersoff said. He said he could not say exactly how large the tumor is, only that it is inoperable.

Gersoff said the cancer spread quickly. A chest X-ray taken after Aunese injured his ribs in an Oct. 15 game against Kansas showed no sign of the disease, he said.

Aunese, 20, is to begin chemotherapy Monday and will remain at University Hospital during the treatment, Gersoff said. Stomach cancer is an uncommon form of the disease, affecting eight out of every 100,000 Americans, and is especially rare for someone as young as Aunese.


“This type of cancer is not genetically related or environmental or dietary,” Gersoff said. “It is just one of those things that randomly develops.”

Gersoff, an orthopedic surgeon and director of sports medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, said he does not know what kind of success to expect from the chemotherapy, but indicated that Aunese is facing a struggle.

“If he responds to the chemotherapy, he could have a very good survival rate,” Gersoff said. “But if he doesn’t respond to the chemotherapy, he could have a matter of months (to live).”

He said Aunese was told Thursday of the seriousness of the cancer.


“Sal does have in his favor that he is young, he previously has been strong and healthy, and he has a strong will,” Gersoff said.

A school spokesman said that Aunese, his family and Colorado Coach Bill McCartney do not want to comment at this time.

“Sal and family stressed that they appreciate the concern of everyone, and their interest in wanting to help,” Gersoff said.

Aunese, 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, sat out his freshman season at Colorado because he was ineligible under requirements of National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Proposition 48. He took over as Colorado’s starting quarterback in the fourth game of the 1987 season and went on to lead the team in rushing (612 yards), passing (522) and total offense (1,134).


Last season, he passed for 1,004 yards and had 1,401 yards in total offense in leading Colorado to an 8-4 record and the Freedom Bowl.