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Remembering Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys
May 4th, 2012
04:30 PM ET

Beastie Boy's death: What is salivary gland cancer?

It's extremely rare for people to be diagnosed with salivary gland cancer. Most Americans who get it are older than 55.

Adam Yauch, better known as "MCA" of the Beastie Boys, died Friday at age 47 after having cancer for nearly three years.  Yauch was one of the few younger patients diagnosed with the disease.

Related: Beastie Boy rapper 'MCA' dies

Two adults in 100,000 are diagnosed with salivary gland cancer per year, according to the American Cancer Society.

"Parotid cancers are fairly unusual in general but it can appear in individuals of all ages," said Dr. Amy Chen, a head and neck cancer surgeon at Emory University in Atlanta. "It’s just in general, parotid cancer is very rare."

Yauch said in July 2009 that he first noticed a lump in his throat “like you have swollen glands.”

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He announced he would have surgery within a week, followed by nearly two months of localized radiation treatment. He said the cancer was also in a lymph node. The survival rate depends on whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. If it hasn't, the five-year estimated rate of survival (Stage I) is 91%. If it has spread far from the glands (Stage IV), the rate is 39%.

Watch video of Yauch talking about his diagnosis.

"I always advise individuals that if you have a lump in your neck or a mass that is growing in size and it hasn’t gone away after two weeks, that you should seek medical attention for it," Chen said. "If the doctor prescribes antibiotics for it and it isn’t getting better, then you need to find another doctor."

If surgeons can't completely remove the cancer from the gland it can spread to the lungs and other parts of the body, she said.

Because the cancer is rare, it has been difficult for researchers to figure out what causes it. There are a few risk factors, the cancer society says, one of which is having radiation treatment to the head and neck for other medical reasons. Workplace exposure may also increase risk.

"We don’t find any relation to smoking or alcohol use like some other head, neck, throat cancers," Chen said. "It’s really a little bit of an unknown to what the risk factors are for developing this disease."

Most salivary gland cancers form in one of the parotid glands, as Yauch’s did, just in front of the ears. It is a difficult surgery to remove the cancerous cells, because the facial nerve goes through the parotid, according to the cancer society website.

The site says both surgical methods and radiation treatments have improved in recent years.  Unfortunately, targeted drugs have not been very effective against salivary gland cancer.

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Filed under: Cancer • Celebrity Health

soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. Ryan in Texas

    So sad. He was too young.
    If you never heard "Paul's Boutique" (their second album) – you should check it out. When the record companies and the business side of the industry wanted them to make another Licensed to Ill, they did what true artists did and went to the frontier. It was ahead of it's time. I think I didn't even listen to it much for the first couple of years. But then I picked it back up, and it was true genius.
    When he was young, he acted like a child, but he really grew up in the 1990's. He became a very thoughful man and he truely GOT IT (eventually). He really became a role model through his advocacy of good causes. He always had time for charity events and was a tireless proponent of political and religious freedom. This wasn't a show or image – he really cared about the plight of people.
    He believed in peace – may he rest in peace.
    Without doubt he left this world a better place.

    May 4, 2012 at 17:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark

      At the time, no one knew what to think of Paul's Boutique. It was deemed a commercial "failure". Yet the album might very well be the greatest rap albums ever made. Between the crazy raps of the Beasties to the unbelievable samples compiled by The Dust Brothers (which, in this day and age of copyright infringement, wouldn't happen), it is ear candy 23 years later. Adam Yauch was a true artist and humanitarian. He will be missed. RIP MCA

      May 4, 2012 at 19:07 | Report abuse |
    • Autumn in Vermont

      Thanks, Ryan. Very well stated.

      May 4, 2012 at 19:13 | Report abuse |
    • Mattrix

      So sad, I'm curious what side of his face was the cancer found?...and what side of his face did he hold his cell phone..I'm not trying to be funny think about it.

      May 4, 2012 at 21:31 | Report abuse |
    • MattrixWut

      @Mattrix Parotid Glands are not in the immediate vicinity of where you hold a cell phone. There is zero need for completely wild and misinformed speculation, thanks.

      May 4, 2012 at 22:30 | Report abuse |
    • tpc58

      @MatrixWut–Actually the parotid gland is in very close proximity to where you would hold a cell phone. The upper part of the gland sits in front of the ear at about the level of the ear canal and the rest of the gland wraps around the angle of the mandible and extends into the upper neck. There is no evidence to link radiation exposure from cell phone usage to these cancers. Typically any cancer caused by radiation exposure takes a long time to develop (ie thyroid cancers may develop many years after someone completed radiation treatment to the chest +/- neck for breast cancer). However if there is a spike in the incidence of these cancers down the road it would be worthwhile to consider a link to cell phone usage as a possible cause. As the article mentioned, salivary gland cancers are quite rare when compared to other more common cancers (breast, lung, prostate etc).

      May 4, 2012 at 23:54 | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      I remember Paul's Boutique and I loved it from the first time I popped it into my tape deck. It didn't come out for months. The first cassettes that were released came in neon green and orange, wish I still had it but I literally wore it out. Awesome album. Yeah that's right, my name's Yauch! Peace be with you, MCA...

      May 5, 2012 at 00:09 | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      Radiation can cause it maybe, the article says. That would include dental x-rays, once thought to be too low a dose to pose any danger, but now it has been found cause an increase in brain cancer. So, if low-dose x-rays could cause brain cancer, and the brain is shielded behind bone, what about closer glands? Gland tissue is always more susceptible than muscle. I would include cell phone radiation in low-dose sources of radiation. A singer also tends to wear a higher-dose radio mike, and that might have an effect too.

      May 5, 2012 at 14:02 | Report abuse |
    • fretlessbass

      Actually, I bought Paul's Boutique on the first day it came out and I got a red copy of the cassette. My other friend that bought it got yellow. I've never seen the orange, but have seen blue, too, and yes... there was green (but I never saw neon green.)

      I've seen people mention that Paul's may be one of the most influential rap albums of all-time and while that is true I also think it is worth mentioning that the segues from song to song had a profound influence on both Electronic and Indie, also. The album was truly genre defiant.

      May 6, 2012 at 03:03 | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      @ MattrixWut – the parotids are EXACTLY where everyone hols their cell phone. Like exactly. Draw a line between the corner of your mouth and the opening to your ear, the parotid gland is under that entire area. Its best not to call out someone for incorrect info when you have no idea what you're talking about. Tsk, tsk...

      May 6, 2012 at 10:50 | Report abuse |
    • Stephanie R

      I had the same type of tumor and had surgery to remove my parotid gland in June 2010. My doctor told my that cell phones or any type of radition cause this. Sometimes there is not reason why they form.

      May 6, 2012 at 12:38 | Report abuse |
  2. isadore

    The first tape (lol!) I ever bought was "Licensed to Ill".
    RIP MCA.

    May 4, 2012 at 18:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. gaucho420

    A great man will be missed. I still remember buying that firt tape as well, with that awesome cover of the JumboJet crashing.

    May 4, 2012 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tim

      Nt a jumbo jet, it's a 727

      May 4, 2012 at 20:07 | Report abuse |
    • h2opoloopunk

      ... and it's not really a jet crashing - it's a visual metaphor for a crushed marijuana joint. I'm amazed by how many people miss out on this.

      May 4, 2012 at 20:41 | Report abuse |
  4. vancouver web design

    I relish, cause I found exactly what I used to be having a look for. You've ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

    May 4, 2012 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. mojoJack

    It was the 1st tape I bought. BB reached a chord with people at the time.

    May 4, 2012 at 20:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Oren

    Dr. Gupta – you need to talk about HPV-related oral cancers in young men. I don't know Yauch's medical history, but the same sexually transmitted HPV virus that causes cervical cancer in women is also linked to an epidemic of oral and neck cancers in men. People need to know this and have their children vaccinated with Gardasil. It is life and death.

    May 4, 2012 at 20:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Oren

      OK – it is wrong for me to speculate about Yauch's case, and here is an article saying it wasn't HPV-related http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/beastie-boys-adam-mca-yauch-dead-cancer-salivary-gland-rare-cancer-good-prognosis-caught-early-article-1.1072765, but HPV is a real risk.

      May 4, 2012 at 20:37 | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      His case was probably caused by radiation or something, but yes, both young men and women should be vaccinated against HPV, because those cancers are wicked and very hard to fight.

      May 5, 2012 at 14:04 | Report abuse |
  7. HPV

    http://www.naturalnews.com/033585_Gardasil_contamination.html

    May 4, 2012 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Oren

      Hey, check out this article in Jezebel: Getting Measles Trendy Among Babies Whose Parents Didn't Vaccinate Them – http://jezebel.com/5903524/ – good luck going vaccine free.

      May 4, 2012 at 22:10 | Report abuse |
  8. Christine Taylor

    I hope Adam returns to us soon and that he achieve the enlightenment he sought in life to allow him to do so.
    I didn't care for the first LP but from Paul's Boutique on I was all in. If you have not read the lyrics to Yauch's track "bodhisattva vow" you should do so. Also, Hot Sauce II tracks 'revisit' the first LP with the lyric "fight for your m-f right to fight,.... " Yauch understood and we all learned. I knew this was coming but it's still overwhelming.

    May 4, 2012 at 21:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. uncle salty

    I remember sitting in a school bus listening to the only rap station in LA, on am mind you, and hearing brass monkey for the first time. The b boys only got better with time. MCA will be missed and he is that much closer to leaving sumsara for nirvana.

    May 4, 2012 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Lisa

    God Bless You Adam. You were so great. My sister has the Licesened To Ill Album and she loves it. RIP Adam. And God Bless You and Your Family And Your Bandmates And All Fans.

    May 4, 2012 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. jrkp

    I just lost my 77 year-old father to cancer of the parotid which had spread to the lymph nodes. Oren, this type of cancer is not related to HPV and HPV is not a risk factor for parotid cancer. More risk factors include long-term exposure to UVA rays and western-european lineage. The average person who gets parotid carcinoma (called squamous cell carcinoma) is a white male 76 years old who is of western-european descent who has had prolonged exposure to UVA rays. My father was 76 when he was diagnosed. He worked outdoors when he was young and enjoyed fishing and other outdoor recreation. This disease is agressive. Most patients die of complications, such as pneumonia, staph, and organ failure. I miss you, Daddy. The world is a poorer place without you.

    May 4, 2012 at 23:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Sorry for your loss. My husband has cancer; there are many different forms, actually different diseases. Although chemo doesn't work for many people with this, I'm surprised that they didn't even try it. Body chemistry is much more complex than anybody used to think.

      May 5, 2012 at 14:08 | Report abuse |
    • Stephanie R

      I had surgery to remove the same type of tumor. It was June 7, 2010. I remember being in my hospital, being perpared for surgery, watching Good Morning America and they saying it was the artist Prince's birthday. I had a lump on the side of my face near my right ear. I asked my doctor how did it get there because I do not drink or smoke and I do not have a history of cancer in my family. He told me that sometimes for cause is unknown. He did not say anything about radiation or cell phone use. By the grace of God, mine was NOT cancer, but he told me that it COULD have turned cancerious(sp). And to think my doctor send me to my ear, nose and throat doctor to have my tonsitis taken out because chronic bouts of sore throats and tonsillitis! I complain about the scar going down my face and the side effects of the surgery, but I am still here!

      May 5, 2012 at 15:12 | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Having had a cancer of the parotid gland over 30 years ago at age 22, I can understand how rare it is. Back then there was a 1 in 20 chance of survival after 2 years, so it is good to see how the survival rates are much higher now. The long term problems with this type of cancer are caused by the radiation treatments, which created a coupld of new cancers over the years. And since the paratid gland runs from behind your ear to your cheek, the results of treatments/surgery are very, very visible to the rest of the world.

      Sad to hear that someone didn't make it with this type of cancer given how treatments have progressed. Once cancer hits the lymphic system it spreads way too fast. And sadly, there wasn't anything he could do to prevent it, because this type of cancer really has no definite cause, other than "just because".

      May 5, 2012 at 15:38 | Report abuse |
  12. lyrker

    A real shame he had to die so young. But on the bright side, he had more amazing life experiences than many people twice his age. His was not a life wasted.

    May 4, 2012 at 23:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. al calvo

    he will be missed. But his music will live on.......so listen and make sure to turn it up loud.....he would love to know that we all have a right to party !!!

    May 4, 2012 at 23:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Beastie Girl 4 Life

    Wow the memories, high school, the music of The Beastie Boys, just KILLING IT!!!! What a trailblazer, I have no idea how he got the courage to be a White rapper during the beginning when rap was shunned by the masses. But just hearing their music it became a culture. I would hope to produce and help others as he as a musician and humanitarian has. RIP Adam Yauch.

    May 5, 2012 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sunday

      I think that's true. Although there is no 100% confirmed rraseech about apple in cancer prevention, but it's worth to try. Anyway apples are tasty, cheap and not poison for us. -3Was this answer helpful?

      July 3, 2012 at 05:09 | Report abuse |
  15. Zephyrous

    Sad story. I love the Beastie Boys – they helped define the era I grew up in. This article is seriously lacking, though, in that it says absolutely nothing about which of the dozens of different types of cancer that can arise in the parotid gland that he actually had. They each have different rates of recurrence, metastasis and mortality. To lump them all by just saying "parotid cancer" is like saying he had a "human body cancer". The survival rates quoted in the article are accurate for some specific types of cancer that can arise in the parotid gland but not others. Bad reporting.

    May 5, 2012 at 00:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Lulu's Mommy

    Wasn't it Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Cancer that he was being treated for? I read that in 2009, but now can't find the info. PLEASE donate to the Lymphoma Society...They get the LEAST amount of funds out of all of the Cancer Donations. A cure must be found. My daughter is in remission now. She had this at the same time Adam was told about his, in her TONSILS.

    The three year mark is scary. RIP Adam. We followed your road to recovery since 2009. You and my daughter are so brave. Cancer sux! Too many young people are being diagnosed with throat and node cancers. My daughter was 21 years old. Life is not and will not ever be the same. Constant fear....and it totally wipes you out financially for the rest of your life, with no medical insurance, like us.

    Our heart and prayers go out to his family and friends. Love to you all. Lulu's Mommy

    May 5, 2012 at 00:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Elizabeth

      A lot of people don't realize that most cancer donations go to specific diseases, and while you hear the headlines "1 in 6" or "1 in 10" for some of the cancers, added all together, the figure is much more scary, and cannot be explained by longer life due to antibiotics. Expect more cancers after Chernobyl and Fukushima; fallout and leukemia increased after nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s. There are many "rare" cancers, but add all the kinds of cancers together, and this is one of the least rare illnesses to get. (And you won't be treated for cancer in the emergency room; you need a health care plan; don't vote for those who plan to veto it.)

      May 5, 2012 at 14:12 | Report abuse |
  17. EmmaLee

    My mother had that form of cancer and passed away last year. They tried several surgeries to preserve the facial nerve but were not able to remove all the cancer. After radiation, cyberknife and chemo, nothing could save her. It was absolutely devastating - destroyed her beautiful face before it was over. She didn't do anything that could have caused it, but please people, don't do things that you KNOW can cause cancer. It is the worst.

    May 5, 2012 at 07:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Gerald Sears

    I had adnoidcystic carcinoma of the Parotid glland when I was 38. I am going on 74 now. Had surgery and althouth I was told
    radiation did not work on this type cancer (it is slow growing and radiation kills cells as they are dividing) I hope my few words
    may give hope to anyone with this cancer.

    God Bless you.

    May 5, 2012 at 08:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. thinquer

    THIS IS A SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE.

    Head and neck cancers are increasing in young people due to HPV infection. It is sexually transmitted especially in younger patients due to oral sex. Google it for verification, then warn your children and young adults. Oral sex is not safe sex.

    It is careless and irresponsible of Dr. Chen to say the causes are unknown.

    May 5, 2012 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Stephanie R

      I had the same type of tumor and surgery and NO it is not a STD! Went getting blood work before surgery, that is one of the things they test your blood for!

      May 5, 2012 at 15:15 | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      In no way is this cancer caused by any sexually transmitted disease. I've been there, done that with this type of cancer and I am 100% positive sex had nothing to do with it. Just because you can Google something doesn't mean it is true.

      May 5, 2012 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
    • thinquer

      Not all oral cancers are caused by HPV infection, but the increasing numbers are.
      Don't be afraid to do the research. Knowledge is power. See CDC website, or ask your dental hygienist.

      May 5, 2012 at 21:24 | Report abuse |
    • HPV is equal opportunity

      Stephanie, a person can contract HPV from contact and be infected for a period of time and then the viremia will pass, sometimes leaving transformed cells in their wake. Those cells may or may not progress to cancer and it can take 6 months to 20 years. Just because you test negative for HPV now doesn't mean you didn't have it earlier and it was the start of a tumor. HPV is actually a much bigger deal than most people ever thought. It certainly doesn't cause all cancers but the take-home message here is NO GLOVE, NO LOVE (northern route and southern route) or both people get tested FIRST and remain monogamous/androus.

      May 7, 2012 at 11:50 | Report abuse |
    • mcottrell

      You are, despite your moniker, an unthinking idiot. If it is irresponsible of the author to say that the cause of a cancer is unknown, is at least as irresponsible for you (are you a doctor?) to say that you know the cause to be an STD, or anything else.

      Stop speculating about something when you have no clue.

      And just so you'll know, I myself am a cancer survivor.

      May 7, 2012 at 21:38 | Report abuse |
    • Stephanie R

      thinquer.....I do not have HPV or and STD...the reason for my tumor, after three years this Thursday, is still unknown!

      June 3, 2012 at 16:25 | Report abuse |
  20. eroteme

    Who is this Chen who says if you have a lump in your throat that is growing in size and has not gone away in two weeks you should seek medical attention. This is fine for those who wish to bring their problem to Chen. For myself, if I have a lump in my throat that is growing in size I will not wait two weeks to see if it goes away. I will immediately see my doctor who I would certainly think would have an xray done, not simply give me antibiotics.

    May 5, 2012 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • patient flow

      X-rays are ionizing radiation, cost money and take time. The vast majority of lumps in the throat are transient infections that will pass on their own (no radiation, money or office time needed). If you have a fever or are having trouble swallowing or breathing, obviously go get examined. If it's a relatively painless swelling, take "a tincture of time" to let the process resolve and if you're still swollen after two weeks, try antibiotics. If antibiotics fail to reduce the volume of the lump, then considering imaging. Be smart, people. Don't needlessly expose yourself to radiation, spend money or waste your own or your provider's time. Let your body first do what it is designed to do.

      May 7, 2012 at 11:58 | Report abuse |
  21. jburge

    Where I worked once, a resident had told me he had had salivary gland cancer and they had removed the glands, he could no longer produce saliva and had to carry a spray everywhere he went for the rest of his life. He was absolutely miserable. He said if he had known it was going to be like this he would not have let them do the surgery.I read a year or so ago that he was found in the river drowned. I always figured he had committed suicide. every time I talked to him he was always going on about how little life mattered to him. He lived alone.

    May 5, 2012 at 11:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Stephanie R

      I had the same type of tumor and surgery. By the grace of GOD, mine was not cancer, but I had the side effects, like the scar that goes down from the top of my ear to my neck, which as a single woman is not a good look. I can not stand very cold weather (it is painful) or loud noises, and I can not wear earrings or a blue tooth in my ear. And for several months, I had saliva coming from my scar when I ate. But now I am so grateful for life!

      May 5, 2012 at 15:21 | Report abuse |
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    I am extremely impressed along with your writing abilities and also with the format on your blog. Is this a paid topic or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one these days..

    May 5, 2012 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. EDK

    Very sorry about the loss of Adam Yauch.

    My father had salivary duct adenocarcinoma of the parotid gland. He got great treatment at MD Anderson. We insisted that he have chemotherapy with the radiation and after, since this cancer recurs and metastacizes. I had hoped his oncologist would publish what she did because she saved his life. This is a rare cancer, but beatable. If anyone is reading this for medical tips, shout out to Bonnie Glisson at MD Anderson.

    May 5, 2012 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Bing

    This is truly a terrible loss. I loved listening to the Beastie Boys in the 80s!

    May 6, 2012 at 20:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Lisa

    God You Adam And The Beastie Boys And His Entire Family And The Fans All Over The World.

    May 7, 2012 at 01:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Grumpyfin

    I hate that he had to go so young. I still remember oh so long ago listening to the Licensed to ILL Album in 9th grade. What happened to MCA and all the other people unfortunate enough to die young is not a mystery to everyone. More people need to see Knives Over Forks. INDUSTRIALIZED FOOD PRODUCTION IS KILLING US!!!!!!!!!!!!! MOSANTO IS KILLING US!!!!!!!! We are being force-feed poison on a daily basis. Would knowingly eat food that had CONSTANTLY been sprayed with things like Round-Up Weed Killer????? This is what we're being fed DAILY and people wonder why the young get cancer!

    May 7, 2012 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. blam

    This is what happens when you spit ill rhymes for a living.

    RIP Adam MCA

    May 7, 2012 at 12:02 | Report abuse | Reply
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  33. Darlene Chauncey

    I've been going to a cancer hospital since last year. They can't find out what type cancer I have. They think I have breast cancer for I had in 1996 & 1997 and now 16 years later I'm dealing with this again. They have done bio's on them but still can't find out. It is a well known center here in the state of Florida where I live. They are giving me radiation now. It is on the neck just below the parotid gland. In the lymph nodes. It has not gone anywhere else in my body been taken pet scans. They find it no where else. Half the doctors think it is restaging breast cancer and the other half think it is glandular cancer. It is a very rare type of cancer. But by the grace of God I'm doing good.

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