Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson Cleared of Tongue Cancer

Bruce Dickinson, lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden, was given some good news this week. He is now free of cancer.

Dickinson was diagnosed with cancer at the base of his tongue three months ago, and underwent radiation and chemotherapy. In an update on the Iron Maiden website, Bruce wrote:

“I would like to thank the fantastic medical team who have been treating me for the last few months, resulting in this amazing outcome. It’s been tough on my family and in many ways it was harder for them than me. I’d also like to send a heartfelt thanks to all our fans for their kind words and thoughts. I’m a firm believer in trying to maintain a positive attitude, and the encouragement from the global Maiden family meant a great deal to me. Right now, I’m feeling extremely motivated and can’t wait to get back to business as usual, as soon as I can!”

Although he is cancer-free, Dickinson is not yet strong enough to play any shows or tour with the band until next year.  The band is concentrating instead on a new Iron Maiden studio album.

What you should know about cancer of the tongue

tongue_tumors_web-80583Cancer of the tongue is a cancer that occurs in the front two-thirds of the tongue and is considered to be a type of oral cavity cancer.  When the cancer begins in the back third of the tongue, it is considered to be a type of oropharyngeal or throat cancer.  Like other head and neck cancers, it arises in the squamous cells that make up the surface of the tongue.

Squamous epithelium, which comes from the Latin word squama, or “scale,” consists of flat, scale-like cells. They form the outermost layer of the skin, but also line the mouth, the female cervix, hollow organs of the body, as well as the surface of the respiratory and digestive tracts.

What causes cancers of the head and neck?

alcohol and tobaccoAlcohol and tobacco use are the two most important risk factors for head and neck cancers. This includes the use of smokeless tobacco, sometimes called “chewing tobacco” or “snuff”. This is especially true for cancers of the oral cavity, oropharynx, hypopharynx, and larynx. It is estimated that three-fourths of head and neck cancers are caused by alcohol and tobacco!

Another important risk factor is infection with cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPVs are a group of more than 150 related viruses. More than 40 of these viruses can be easily spread through direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. HPV infections are the most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States. In fact, more than half of sexually active people are infected with one or more HPV types at some point in their lives.

One type HPV-16 is a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers, particularly cancers that involve the tonsils or the base of the tongue. More than half of the cancers diagnosed in the oropharynx are linked to HPV-16. According to the National Cancer Institute, the incidence of HPV-associated oropharyngeal cancer has increased during the past 20 years, especially among men. They estimate that, by 2020, HPV will cause more oropharyngeal cancers than cervical cancers in the United States!

What are the symptoms of cancer of the tongue?

Cancer of the tongue can cause white or red patches on the tongue. It can also cause hard lumps on the side of the tongue. These can sometimes have an ulcer (sore) on them. They can bleed if bitten or touched. Early on they are not painful, but may become painful as the tumor progresses. Sometimes, tongue cancer can cause numbness and trouble moving the tongue. This can cause speech problems.

How is cancer of the tongue treated?

Depending on the location, and stage of the cancer, cancer of the tongue can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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