Michael Douglas has made a jaw-dropping revelation about his throat cancer: He didn’t contract it from smoking or drinking — but from oral sex.
The Oscar-winning Hollywood star set tongues wagging after he told The Guardian newspaper that he contracted HPV, or human papillomavirus, through a sex act and it developed into cancer.
“Without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus,” he told the British newspaper in an interview published yesterday.
Your first reaction may be suspicion that Douglas is trying to scapegoat sex when other factors could be to blame, particularly his past smoking.
But in fact, a growing body of research suggests that his claim is not entirely far-fetched: Rates of head and throat cancer linked to HPV have been rising dramatically in American men. (File under: Reasons the new HPV vaccines are recommended for boys as well as girls.)
Here are some basics courtesy of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute:
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. It may cause cervical cancer and increasingly a type of throat cancer called oropharyngeal (or-o-fair-en-jeel). Unlike cervical cancer, there is no screening test (like a Pap Test) for this form of head and neck cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 41,000 new cases of head and neck cancer this year – 14,000 being cancer of the pharnyx (which includes the tonsils and base of the tongue). Most of these patients will be young and three out of four will be male.
And here’s some background from a prize-winning story in the cancer magazine Cure: “Facing The Facts: HPV-Associated Head and Neck Cancers Get A Second Look.”
HPV-positive oropharyngeal malignancies—most typically found on the tonsils or at the base of the tongue—increased 225 percent from 1988 to 2004. If current trends continue, HPV-positive oral cancer cases could soon surpass cervical cancer diagnoses, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
I just spoke with Dr. Barry Benjamin, an ear, nose and throat specialist who has been practicing at Dedham Medical Associates for 35 years and has seen the prevalence of HPV-related head and neck cancers skyrocket in recent years. Continue reading