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Eddie Van Halen thinks he developed cancer from sucking on metal guitar picks; a doctor disagrees

INSIDER logoINSIDER 10/14/2019 Lindsay Dodgson
Eddie Van Halen holding a guitar © Ethan Miller/Getty Images
  • Eddie Van Halen blames his metal guitar picks for developing mouth cancer, according to TMZ. He also theorized about the cause in a 2015 interview with Billboard.
  • Sources told TMZ that Van Halen has been traveling between the U.S. and Germany to receive treatment for years.
  • Van Halen lost a third of his tongue due to mouth cancer in 2000, and is receiving treatment for cancerous cells in his throat.
  • However, Dr Tom Micklewright from Push Doctor told Insider that copper and zinc are not carcinogenic, and it was most likely Van Halen's heavy smoking that was to blame.
  • The small health impact of metals like cobalt, nickel, and lead are far outweighed by the "proven effect of tobacco smoke on a vast range of human cancers," he said.

Eddie Van Halen blames his metal guitar plectrums for developing cancer, according to TMZ. Sources told the site that the guitarist has been flying between the U.S. and Germany to treat throat cancer, which he thinks was caused by the picks he used to keep in his mouth during shows.

Van Halen was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2000, and had a third of his tongue removed as treatment. But some of the cancer cells have made their way down his throat, TMZ reported, so he has started new treatments to remove them.

Van Halen previously theorized about metal picks and cancer back in a 2015 interview with Billboard.

"I used metal picks - they're brass and copper - which I always held in my mouth, in the exact place where I got the tongue cancer," he told Billboard. "Plus, I basically live in a recording studio that's filled with electromagnetic energy. So that's one theory."

He added he was also smoking and "doing a lot of drugs and a lot of everything," but his lungs are "totally clear."

"This is just my own theory, but the doctors say it's possible," he said.

Scraping the cancerous cells out of his throat has worked so far and Van Halen's cancer is in check, according to TMZ.

However, according to Dr Tom Micklewright, the medical officer at Push Doctor, plectrums are probably not the cancer's cause. 

Micklewright told Insider that neither copper or the metals in brass are considered carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

"Copper coils have been used as contraception in the human body for many years without evidence in increased cancer risk," Micklewright said. "In contrast, numerous chemicals contained within cigarettes have been conclusively proven to significantly increase cancer risk, and the more likely cause of his throat cancer."

Van Halen was reportedly a heavy smoker, which has been linked with at least 15 different cancers in multiple long term studies.

"Research has shown that for every 15 cigarettes smoked, there is a DNA change which could cause a cell in the body to become cancerous," the Cancer Research UK website states. "But the best way to reduce your risk is to stop smoking completely."

David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen posing for the camera © Fin Costello / Staff/Getty Images

Micklewright said Van Halen's misconception about the metal plectrums may have come from the fact other metals have been linked with health problems. For example, mercury and lead used to be handled more freely before they were found to be toxic to the brain, kidneys, and other organs. Some cobalt and nickel compounds have also been linked with carcinogenic risk, he said. 

"However, the impact of these are far outweighed by the proven effect of tobacco smoke on a vast range of human cancers," he said. "It's disappointing to see so many publications focus on the metal in this case and miss the opportunity to reinforce the strong public health message about the harms of smoking."

Gallery: 30 Surprising Things That Affect Whether You May Get Cancer (Provided by The Remedy)

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