Beastie Boy Adam Yauch Has Salivary Gland Cancer

Rare Salivary Gland Cancer Usually Curable

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 20, 2009
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July 20, 2009 - Beastie Boys member Adam "MCA" Yauch has cancer of the salivary gland with spread to a local lymph node, Yauch says in a video posted today on his band's web site. The rare cancer is usually curable in its earlier stages.

"About two months ago I started feeling this little lump in my throat," Yauch says in the video. "I actually have a form of cancer in the [salivary] gland, the parotid gland, and also in the lymph node."

Yauch Salivary Gland Surgery: Side Effects?

Yauch says he will undergo surgery next week, with localized radiation treatment to follow. He said that his doctors tell him his voice will not be affected and that scans show no spread of the cancer to the rest of his body.

"It is a little setback, a pain in the ass, but it is treatable in most cases and people don't have continued problems with this," he says.

However, it's not possible to tell exactly how the surgery will affect Yauch until doctors actually perform the operation, says head and neck cancer expert Dong Moon Shin, MD, professor of otolaryngology, hematology, and oncology at Atlanta's Emory University.

"There is some potential for nerve damage, but it depends on the tumor wrapping any important nerves or blood vessels," Shin tells WebMD. "Until the surgeon goes into the local area, we cannot assume any specific outcome. But there are potential complications."

Salivary Gland Cancer Prognosis

Salivary gland cancer can spread to the lungs, liver, and bones. While Yauch does not appear to have such metastatic disease, Shin says his doctors will have to keep a close eye on him as such tumors may appear years after treatment.

Yauch said he does not expect to have to undergo chemotherapy. Shin says there's no definitive proof chemotherapy helps, but that he and other experts often recommend chemotherapy in combination with postoperative radiation treatment if they feel a patient is at high risk.

Yauch's exact prognosis depends on the size and grade of his original tumor, the size of the tumor that spread to his lymph node, the extent of spread to the lymph node, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. And it very much depends on the type of cell in the tumor, as salivary gland tumors may arise from many different cell types.

Based on what Yauch said in the video, he likely has at least stage III salivary gland cancer.

Salivary Gland Cancer: Bad Signs

Yauch will turn 45 on Aug. 5. Salivary gland tumors usually strike people in their 40s and 50s, says Shin. However, salivary cancers aren't common, occurring at a rate of about three cases per 100,000 people per year.

Salivary gland cancers usually begin with painless swelling. It's a bad sign when there's facial nerve weakness or persistent facial pain.

Early-stage salivary tumors are usually cured by surgical removal of the tumor. The best outcomes are seen when the tumor occurs in one of the larger salivary glands such as the parotid gland.

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Dong Moon Shin, MD, professor of otolaryngology and of hematology and oncology; director, clinical and translational cancer prevention program, Winship Cancer Institute, Emory University.

National Cancer Institute: "Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment (PDQ)."

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