HEALTHY LIVING

Levon Helm Throat Cancer: Legendary 'The Band' Musician Dies At 71

04/18/2012 12:02 pm ET | Updated Apr 19, 2012

UPDATED April 19: Levon Helm passed away today (April 19) from throat cancer, Rolling Stone reports.

"He passed away peacefully at 1:30 this afternoon surrounded by his friends and bandmates," Larry Campbell, a longtime guitarist with Helm, told Rolling Stone. "All his friends were there, and it seemed like Levon was waiting for them. Ten minutes after they left we sat there and he just faded away. He did it with dignity. It was even two days ago they thought it would happen within hours, but he held on. It seems like he was Levon up to the end, doing it the way he wanted to do it. He loved us, we loved him."

For more information, read the Rolling Stone article here.

Throat cancer is defined as cancer that develops in the throat (also called the pharynx), the voice vox (also called the larynx) or the tonsils, according to the Mayo Clinic.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are expected to be 5,980 deaths from throat cancer (including larynx) this year. There are also estimated to be 25,870 new cases of throat and larynx cancer this year.

Men have a ten-fold increased risk of throat cancer compared to women; it is also more common in people ages 50 and older, according to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

If found early on, the cancer is able to be cured in 90 percent of patients, according to A.D.A.M. However, that percentage goes down to 50 to 60 percent if the cancer has spread to the nearby tissues or lymph nodes. The cancer is considered uncurable once it has spread to other organs, beyond the head and neck, A.D.A.M. reported.

* * *

Legendary musician Levon Helm, who was part of The Band, is "in the final stages of his battle with cancer," according to a statement his family posted on his website.

Helm, 71, was known for his soulful voice and for his involvement in The Band as drummer and backing vocals.

His daughter, Amy, and wife Sandy posted the following message on his website:

Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration... he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage…

Helm was previously diagnosed with throat cancer -- on his vocal chords -- in 1998, CBS News reported. The disease nearly took away his voice, leaving him able to speak at just a whisper.

Helm was a smoker, and he smoked as many as three packs every day, according to CBS News.

"I think there's that secret little spot back there in your mind where you know something's wrong, but you don't want to admit it," Helm told the Albany Times Union in 2000. "You put it off, you know. But my family and friends made me go to the doctor, and that's when you start dealing with it."

Helm underwent a series of 25 treatments of radiation at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Albany Times Union reported.

But his voice strengthened in the years following, enabling him to release an album in 2009, CBS News reported.

Plus, the Albany Times Union reported that Helm quit smoking cigarettes once he was diagnosed with the throat cancer.

There is not yet any information on what kind of cancer Helm now faces -- whether it's a new cancer, or if it is the throat cancer.

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