In a candid conversation with the Guardian, the actor Michael Douglas reveals that his throat cancer was caused by HPV transmitted to him through oral sex, a.k.a. cunnilingus.
According to the National Cancer Institute, HPV is not one virus but a group of more than 150 related viruses. Known as the human papillomaviruses, they are sexually transmitted and can cause genital warts, almost all cervical cancers, most anal cancers and some vaginal, penile and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers.
There are two HPV vaccines available. Gardasil is effective in preventing cervical, anal, vulvar and vaginal cancers as well as genital warts. Cervarix is effective for the prevention of cervical cancer and precancerous cervical lesions caused by HPV. These vaccines are not approved for the prevention of penile or throat cancers caused by HPV.
The best prevention is for you to have a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. Condoms help reduce your risk of HPV transmission, but is not 100% effective.
Michael Douglas has been clear of his throat cancer for two years. This followed an 8 week treatment of intensive chemotherapy and radiation. He is lucky since his type of stage 4 cancer is often fatal. But if you are fortunate to clear yourself of this type of cancer, it doesn’t come back 95% of the time.
The National Cancer Institute also states that by 2020, HPV will cause more throat cancers than cervical cancers in the US. This type of HPV infection can cause cancer of the oropharynx (middle part of your throat including the soft palate), the base of your tongue and your tonsils. Michael Douglas’s stage four tumor was at the base of his tongue.
I applaud Mr. Douglas for being open and honest. Throat cancer as the result of an HPV infection through transmission by oral sex is on the rise, especially among men. By 2020, throat cancers caused by an HPV infection will outnumber cervical cancers caused by HPV. Practicing safe sex is your best defense against getting this type of cancer.