The rapper died following a three-year battle with cancer of the parotid, one of the salivary glands, that had spread to a nearby lymph node.
This kind of cancer is often asymptomatic, said Dr. Richard Smith, the is director of the Head and Neck Cancer Program at Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care.
It’s not linked to alcohol abuse, smoking or HPV.
Often, it's a case of bad luck, he said.
In many cases, patients respond well to surgery to remove the affected glands and, if prescribed, localized radiation.
In 2009, Yauch confirmed that he underwent these treatments.
That year, in a video released on YouTube, Yauch told fans his health troubles began after he felt a lump on his neck.
He said he didn’t think anything of it at first, but after a few weeks he decided to see a doctor.
A specialist gave him the news: Malignant tumors in the parotid gland and nearby lymph gland.
Patients frequently discover the large lumps on their own.
“The parotid gland is locoated high in the neck,under the ear,” Smith said. “Many patients often discover the lump while shaving.”
Unfortunately, the cancer by this point may have already advanced to an intermediate stage.
There are many kinds of cancer of the parotid gland, but judging from Yauch’s age and how quickly he became ill, it was likely a high-grade, aggressive form of the disease, said Dr. Gady Har-El, the chairman of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital.
“This is why we advise patients with lumps in the head and neck that persist for three to four weeks to get them checked out,” he said.
In 2009, Yauch explained to his fans that while he was stunned by his diagnosis, he had hope that he’d pull through.
He apologized to his fans for canceling the tour and promised that the music would continue.
He described the news as a “set back” and a “pain in the ass” but had high hopes that he would be cured.
“It’s not in a place that affects my voice, so that’s nice,” he laughed. “That’s convenient.”
In 2010, the situation looked more dire. He announced that he'd embraced a vegan lifestyle and discussed treatments with doctors in Tibet.
That year, he sent an email to fans stating, “While I’m grateful for all the positive energy people are sending my way, reports of my being totally cancer free are exaggerated,” he wrote. “I’m continuing treatment, staying optimistic and hoping to be cancer free in the near future.”
He formed the Beastie Boys with Mike "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horowitz in 1979 and broke hip-hop barriers with their hit 1986 album "Licensed to Ill" on Russell Simmons' Def Jam Records.
He leaves behind a wife and young daughter. SOURCE