Van Halen's Cancer Battle

04/02/1998 AT 12:00 AM EST

Dutch-born guitarist Eddie Van Halen, 44, co-founder of the rock band that bears his name, has confirmed that he has cancer. Van Halen, a self-professed longtime smoker and reformed alcoholic, made the announcement on his band's Web site. He did not specify the type of cancer. He did, however, apologize for his earlier silence on the matter, calling it "a very unique and private matter." Last May, amid a whirl of rumors, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston issued a vague statement saying that the musician planned "to begin an outpatient clinical trial to prevent cancer." Since then, there have been no updates. In the note on the Web site, which was posted Thursday, Van Halen said, "I was examined by three oncologists and three head-and-neck surgeons at Cedars Sinai (Medical Center in Los Angeles) just before spring break, and I was told that I'm healthier than ever and beating cancer." Van Halen co-founded his band in 1974 with his older brother, Alex, on drums, bass player Michael Anthony and singer David Lee Roth. He and his wife, actress Valerie Bertinelli, have a son, Wolfgang.

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