IRON MAIDEN drummer Nicko McBrain was diagnosed with stage 1 laryngeal cancer in 2020 and opened up about it in a single interview last year but otherwise kept it mostly under wraps.
The now-70-year-old musician received his cancer diagnosis after undergoing an endoscopy at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University Of Miami Health System and the Miller School of Medicine. Within a week, McBrain's cancer was surgically removed and he now gets check-ups every few months to make sure the cancer hasn't returned.
According to the web site of University Of Miami Health System, which spoke to Nicko about his cancer battle around the release of MAIDEN's latest album, "Senjutsu", the drummer decided to get himself checked out after noticed a change in his voice that could not be explained by a performance or touring.
"When I play drums with the band, I actually sort of scream and yell while I play, like a Judo guy slapping the mat," McBrain said. "[But] when you are lying down in a quiet room and you speak and hear your voice in your head and have a cold, you sound different. This happened to me. I thought this is very reminiscent — this different sounding voice of mine — to when I finish a tour or after a show. I didn't have a cold or any symptoms of illness at all. I started to feel that I was clearing my throat more when I was in conversations. So, I just took it on myself to call my doctor."
David E. Rosow, M.D., FACS, director of the Division of Laryngology and Voice at the University of Miami Health System, who performed McBrain's endoscopy, said laryngeal cancer is extremely curable with excellent quality of life if it is caught early.
"Anyone who is experiencing a voice change that lasts longer than three weeks should see an otolaryngologist who can evaluate a person's vocal folds," Dr. Rosow said. "Many cases present with a voice change like Nicko's and often when the tumor is as small as one to two millimeters, which makes the tumor easier to completely remove. The prognosis with early (stage 1) tumors is excellent, with published cure rates of 95% and up."
McBrain, who had the cancer in a part of his vocal cords, said: "I thoroughly recommend that anyone who may feel there is something different with their voice to go and get it checked out. And don't put it off. It was very good for me that I caught it in stage 1."
Nicko isn't the first member of MAIDEN to beat cancer. Back in late 2014, IRON MAIDEN's Bruce Dickinson was diagnosed with throat cancer. The singer, who had a golf gall-size tumor on his tongue and another in the lymph node on the right side of his neck, got the all-clear in May 2015 after radiation and nine weeks of chemotherapy.
In a 2015 interview with Overdrive, McBrain admitted that he thought MAIDEN was over when it was discovered that Dickinson had a cancerous tumor. "Well, I'd be a liar if I didn't think for a minute that IRON MAIDEN [was] finished," he said. "[But] I thought more about the possibility of losing my friend than anything else, to be honest. Then later, I was thinking, 'God forbid if the worst ever happened, the legacy would be the last 16 albums.'"
McBrain, who is a dedicated Christian, continued: "I've got to be honest, I did question his mortality at one point and thankfully that didn't last long. Honestly, I got down on my knees and said a prayer, picked my thoughts up and got positive about it all, thinking to myself, 'If anyone can beat this, it's Bruce.' He's so positive about everything he's ever done in his life, or whatever he is about to do. Basically, I prayed for him and my prayers were answered, as well as everybody else that knows and cares for him."