Eddie’s Last Song

By Pamela Tom, HPVANDME Founder

What We Can Learn from the Beloved Guitarist’s Battle with Throat Cancer 

Remembering Eddie Van Halen … less than a month after Eddie Van Halen, 65, died from throat cancer on October 6, 2020, his son Wolf Van Halen dispels rumors that he will replace his father as Van Halen’s lead guitarist. The 29 year-old says the false buzz is “hurting me and my family.” 

So let’s flip the conversation. Eddie’s passing can become a catalyst for helping others learn more about throat cancer: how to prevent it, how to detect early symptoms, and how to beat it.


How You Get Throat Cancer

Risk factors for throat cancer include smoking, chewing tobacco, heavy alcohol use, and now the most common cause: the human papillomavirus, or HPV. We don’t know whether HPV caused Eddie’s cancer. We do know that HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer is now the #1 HPV cancer. And HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Oro-what, you ask? The oropharynx refers to the base of the tongue (in the throat), the walls of the throat, soft palate, and tonsils. How does HPV get in your oropharynx area? 

UCSF explains: Oral HPV is thought to spread mainly through oral sex and deep tongue kissing. The virus passes from one person to another during sexual activity. Your risk of getting the infection goes up if you have more sexual partners; use tobacco or alcohol; have a weak immune system. Men are more likely to have oral HPV infection than women. HPV-16 is commonly associated with almost all oral cancers. 


The HPV Connection

HPV is a virus. HPV infection is so common, the CDC says nearly 80 million Americans are currently infected with some type of HPV. And about 14 million become newly infected each year. Survivors, famous or not, sadly associate HPV with embarrassment, shame, or denial. Didn’t the world learn during the AIDs crisis that shunning and judging people with a disease slows the search for a cure? In fact, when those diagnosed with HPV cancer talk about the HPV connection, they help all of us. 

Talking about HPV helps tomorrow’s patient know to look for early symptoms

Talking about HPV helps parents understand the importance of HPV vaccination.

Talking about HPV helps everyone learn how to reduce the risk of HPV infection and HPV cancers.


Remembering Eddie Van Halen

The Pasadena City Council wants to honor Eddie Van Halen in the city where he grew up and where the Van Halen band started out. Ideas include renaming a street after Eddie, or erecting a monument. Eddie will be remembered for his talent, music, and joy of life. His unexpected legacy may be saving lives … if his passing shines a brighter spotlight on throat cancer and HPV cancer prevention.