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The Cancers That Claimed Eddie Van Halen’s Life

When Eddie Van Halen died, fans across the country responded in two overwhelmingly universal ways — one, with a lot of sadness and, two, with a lot of confusion. Not everyone knew that the longtime Van Halen guitarist extraordinaire had battled a litany of cancers, namely tongue, throat and ultimately lung cancer, which ended his life at the age of 65. Whether these cancers were related to each other remains unknown to the public.

Keep Your Habits in Check

Van Halen’s initial cancer diagnosis came in 2000. While he publicly speculated about how his tongue cancer began — by regularly holding brass and copper guitar picks in his mouth while playing — there is no solid evidence to support that possibility. On the other hand, there are two major habits that often can lead to a cancer diagnosis like the one Van Halen had — using tobacco and drinking alcohol. And although he had both tongue and throat cancer, Eddie Van Halen was being treated for lung cancer during what ultimately became the final decade of his life.

Approximately 53,260 people will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in 2020 and 10,750 people will likely die of the diseases, according to the American Cancer Society.

Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke

Most head and neck cancers involve the salivary glands, skin and aerodigestive tract, the lining of the structures that allow us to breathe and eat. This can include the nasal passages, mouth, throat and voice box. Tobacco and alcohol used on their own are significant risk factors leading to these cancers. When used together, however, they have a synergistic effect, meaning they pose a much higher risk of cancer together than when used alone. 

HPV (or human papillomavirus) also  can cause changes in the body that may lead to cancer. Nearly 85 percent of Americans will contract HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease. Sexual practices such as unprotected oral sex and intercourse can increase risk of transmission, but you also can contract HPV from sharing lipstick or drinks. The good news is most people are able to recover fully from this disease. In some, the infection may cause mutations that result in cancer later in life. Maximize your healthy choices by abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes, and getting vaccinated for HPV. 

Some Fast Advice

  • Complete all the steps. If you have head and neck cancer currently, seek treatment at a center that offers multidisciplinary care (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and supportive care). When you are seen and evaluated by a multidisciplinary center, it really is in your best interest to follow through with all treatment that is recommended to you.

  • Complete your surveillance visits. Even cancer that has been treated completely can still come back, and regular visits are critical to catching that as early as possible.

  • See your doctor whenever necessary. That’s very general advice, but very necessary too. You know your body better than anyone, and if something just doesn’t feel right, get it checked out.

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