As Eddie Van Halen continues his throat cancer fight, the family has remained quiet about health updates. So it was heartening to hear guitarist Steve Vai share a glorious memory of an encounter with Van Halen, at an Allan Holdsworth concert in LA:
“This was at the peak of the Van Halen craze: “Edward came out on stage and started jamming and we were all like, ‘Holy Shi$! There’s Edward!'” Vai told MetalCastle this week.Read More
Vai, who played with Frank Zappa “weaseled my way backstage … I told him I worked with Frank [Zappa], and he was a fan.” Vai gave Van Halen his number. “I told him if he ever wanted to meet Frank to let me know.” New to LA, Vai was confident that Van Halen wouldn’t be calling.
The next day, Vai’s roommate fielded the call from Van Halen and passed Zappa’s number along. “I was like, ‘Oh no! You can’t be giving out Frank Zappa’s phone number!’
“Edward Was There — It Was Fantastic”
Next, Vai said, Zappa called: “He says, ‘Hey sport…’ I go, ‘What’s up Frank?’ He says, ‘Come on up, Eddie Van Halen is here.’ So I hung up the phone and went over to his house – Edward was there and it was fantastic. At Frank’s studio there are just tons of instruments, so Edward started playing and then Frank started playing and then I started playing. It wasn’t a song, it was just jamming. It was a lot of fun, it went on for a while.”
Eddie Van Halen’s Throat Cancer
After a previous tongue cancer diagnosis in 2000, Van Halen underwent surgery to remove the cancer along with roughly a third of his tongue. Though he was declared cancer-free in 2002, Newser reported that the singer “occasionally had cancer cells scraped out of his throat after they migrated there.”
Now, sources have told the celebrity news site TMZ that Van Halen has been flying to Germany to receive radiation treatment for his throat cancer for five years.
It is unclear why Van Halen is being treated in Germany as opposed to somewhere closer to Los Angeles, where he now lives. It’s worth noting that the star was born in the Netherlands (which borders Germany) and lived there until age seven, when his family moved to California. German cancer clinics have been known to draw patients from many countries in Europe and beyond.
Van Halen Theorizes About The Cause of His Cancer
Van Halen theorizes that years of putting copper and brass guitar picks in his mouth caused his throat cancer. “I used metal picks—they’re brass and copper—which I always held in my mouth, in the exact place where I got the tongue cancer,” he previously told Billboard.
Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center explains the link between HPV and cancer.
“This is just my own theory, but the doctors say it’s possible.”This is probably not the case, however. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do not classify copper or the metals in brass (an alloy comprised of copper and zinc) as carcinogenic to humans. This means that there isn’t known evidence that the metals cause cancer. Plus, Van Halen has been a lifelong smoker; as he told Billboard during the same interview, he began smoking cigarettes when he was only 12 years old.
“I was an alcoholic, and I needed alcohol to function… I started drinking and smoking when I was 12,” Van Halen said, adding that the reason he doesn’t credit his cancer to smoking is that, despite his throat cancer, his “lungs are totally clear.” Smoking, however, is a known risk factor for oral cancer and throat cancer just as it is for lung cancer. Excessive consumption of alcohol use also increases cancer risk. And throat cancer is often tied to exposure to the HPV virus.
According to the American Cancer Society, “Tobacco and alcohol use are 2 of the strongest risk factors for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers.” (Oropharyngeal cancers meaning cancers of the mouth, tongue, or throat).
What’s more, “the risk of these cancers is even higher in people who both smoke and drink alcohol, with the highest risk in heavy smokers and drinkers. According to some studies, the risk of these cancers in heavy drinkers and smokers may be as much as 100 times higher than the risk in people who don’t smoke or drink.”
Van Halen was previously diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2000.
Treatment Options for Throat Cancer
“In early-stage throat cancer, the cancer is confined to just what we call the primary tumor in the back of the throat or the tonsils, or the base of the tongue,” said Dr. Geiger. “But if the PET scan shows that the cancer has moved to the lungs or the liver, then our approach would not be to cure cancer but to treat it and to keep it under control,” she says. “It’s really complicated because there are three stage 4s. It’s not like breast cancer where, once you’re Stage 4, you’re incurable,” she continues.
“In more advanced throat cancer cases, which is actually the most common stage that we see,” she adds, “in addition to the primary tumor, lymph nodes of the neck are involved.”
“Patients who have disease that has spread outside of the head and neck region, meaning below the clavicles, into the lungs or into the liver, we call that distant metastatic disease and by definition, those patients are considered incurable,” she continues, “So our efforts at treatment would be focused on palliative therapy, controlling the disease but, unfortunately, not curing it.”