Eddie Van Halen's death another reminder of oral cancer's reach into society

By Kevin Henry, DrBicuspid.com editor in chief

October 9, 2020 -- As a teenager growing up in the 1980s, Van Halen was part of my listening regimen on most days. I'm sure my cassette tape of "1984" was almost worn out in my Walkman by the time I got my driver's license.

I have no musical ability whatsoever, but I could certainly imitate Eddie Van Halen on the air guitar when he flashed his amazing talent during songs like "Jump" and "Panama." When he teamed up with Michael Jackson on a guitar solo in "Beat It," it was like the worlds of 1980s music collided all at once.

All of those memories came flooding back to me earlier this week when it was announced that Eddie Van Halen had died from metastatic throat cancer at the age of 65. The world lost one of the most influential guitarists it has ever seen.

His death marked the end of a 20-year battle against cancer that, as he told Billboard in 2015, included a partial removal of his tongue (partial glossectomy) for tongue cancer. The cancer had already spread to his throat and esophagus at the time.

Eddie Van Halen's death is a reminder to all of us just how deadly oral cancer is, and why dental professionals should be educating patients on its dangers and evaluating them for the disease every time they sit in the chair. Many of your patients (and many of you) could also be teenagers of the 1980s who played air guitar along with Van Halen. Much like Chadwick Boseman's death opened up a conversation about screening for colorectal cancer, Eddie Van Halen's death could well present an opportunity to talk to your patients more about oral cancer, as well as HPV and the effects of smoking and smokeless tobacco.

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, approximately 53,500 people in the U.S. will have been diagnosed with oral cancer when 2020 comes to a close. We in the dental industry have the opportunity not only to affect that number but also to be a source of compassion and information if and when a patient receives that diagnosis. We have the opportunity to build bridges with the medical side of the equation so we're prepared for that conversation with a patient.

Eddie Van Halen gained fame through his musical abilities, but he faced the same health challenges so many others face today. What can you do to help someone sitting in your chair not experience the same fate?

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.


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