Salivary Gland Cancer: Adam Yauch, Beastie Boys Bandmember, Dies Of The Disease, But What Is It?

Adam "MCA" Yauch, member of the iconic Beastie Boys, has passed away after battling cancer of the salivary gland, according to news reports.

Yauch, 47, was treated for the cancer in 2009, and in 2011, there were false reports that he had beaten it. But he actually was never cured of the cancer, and he continued to battle the disease, HuffPost Celebrity reported.

Cancer of the salivary gland is quite rare, making up only 2.5 to 3 diagnoses out out of every 100,000 cancer cases each year, according to the National Cancer Institute. The cancer only represents 3 to 5 percent of total head and neck cancers.

The cancer begins in the salivary glands in the head, which are located in the mouth, throat and neck. The most common place for the cancer to start is in the parotid gland -- near the front part of the ear, the Mayo Clinic reported.

Not all salivary gland tumors are cancerous, according to the National Institutes of Health. When the tumor is benign, a doctor may choose to just remove the salivary gland. However, other treatments like radiation therapy, chemotherapy are needed if the tumor is malignant (surgery to remove the cancerous tumor is also an option), according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Salivary gland cancer is most common amongst people in their 60s and 70s, according to the National Cancer Institute. Risk factors include being exposed to radiation (like that which is used to treat other cancers in the head or neck), and exposure to substances used in asbestos mining, plumbing and rubber manufacturing, the Mayo Clinic reported.

Signs of salivary gland cancer include having a typically painless lump in the mouth or near the ear, jaw, lip or cheek; ear fluid drainage; a numb or weak sensation in the face; problems with swallowing; and facial pain, according to the National Cancer Institute. Tests to diagnose the cancer include screenings like MRI, CT or PET scans, an ultrasound exam and endoscopy.

The Cleveland Clinic reported that a number of factors can influence how deadly salivary gland cancer will be, including how old the patient is and how healthy he or she is; what kinds of cancer cells the tumor is comprised of; which salivary gland the cancer is in; and the size of the cancer tumor.