Talking About Adam Yauch

It’s come up a couple times, and I’m sure it’s purposely not been brought up even more times by friends who didn’t want to mention it because it’s so close to my situation. Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys died yesterday from head and neck cancer. He was my age (47).


It’s not clear what type of cancer he had, and there are many different types that affect the salivary glands:

  • Acinic cell carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma
  • Clear cell carcinoma
  • Malignant mixed tumor
  • Mucoepidermoid carcinoma
  • Oncocytic carcinoma
  • Polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma
  • Salivary duct carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma

The Mayo Clinic

My type of cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) is on the list… but so are a bunch of other types. It’s also unlikely (but not impossible) that his cancer was HPV positive, because only 15%-25% of head and neck cancers are HPV positive, and it’s most common in tonsil cancers (like mine). It’s comparatively rare in salivary gland cancers.

I didn’t want family and friends to read those articles and start going down those dark roads of statistics that aren’t necessarily relevant to my specific case. I saw one article that mentioned only a 39% survival rate if the cancer is past Stage 1 and in a lymph node. I know that’s flat out wrong for my type of cancer, which almost always makes it to at least one lymph node without significant effect on the prognosis for success.

It also sounds like he had surgery plus radiation but no chemotherapy. The use of chemotherapy is still controversial for some very treatable head and neck cancers. Some doctors are treating chemo as a second pass option, if the cancer returns. I didn’t hesitate to undergo chemo, whatever the cost, because it kills the cancer cells anywhere they linger in my body.

The bottom line: Adam played the odds and I’m playing the odds too. We don’t know enough about his situation to know if and how his odds were different from mine. I feel genuinely optimistic about my treatment and I believe I will be cured.

Cancer sucks. Rest in peace, Adam.

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