On June 3, Michael Douglas stated in an interview published in The Guardian that his advanced throat cancer, now in a two-year remission, was caused by HPV, a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Interviewer’s paraphrase: "The throat cancer, I assume, was first seeded during those wild middle years, when he drank like a fish and smoked like the devil. Looking back, knowing what he knows now, does he feel he overloaded his system?"
Michael Douglas: "No," he says. "No. Because, without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus."
His spokesman later refuted that statement, stating that Douglas was only stating that oral sex is one the many causes of throat cancer.
Regardless of what actually caused his throat cancer, Michael Douglas is raising awareness of the most common STI, human papillomavirus, or HPV. Since his statement wasn’t anywhere nearly as educational or well-expressed as Angelina Jolie’s op-ed about breast cancer, I will explain what you need to know about HPV.
HPV can affect the genitals, mouth, and throat of both males and females who are sexually active. It can develop into genital warts and cancer (genital or mouth/throat). You can get it by vaginal, anal, and oral sex or even just genital contact.
HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active males and females get it at some point in their lives, though 90% of HPV infections go away within two years without causing any symptoms or health problems. According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected by the virus with about 14 million newly infected people each year.
As for HPV outcomes, here is the breakdown of the number of cancers caused by HPV each year in the U.S. in increasing occurrence:
- 500 vaginal cancers
- 600 penile cancers
- 1,500 anal cancers in men
- 1,700 oropharyngeal (mouth/throat) cancers in women*
- 2,100 vulvar cancers
- 2,800 anal cancers in women
- 6,700 oropharyngeal (mouth/throat) cancers in men*
- 12,000 women with cervical cancer
- 360,000 persons get genital warts
*Note: Other factors, notably tobacco and alcohol use, may also play a role with HPV to cause these cancers. This is where The Guardian interview made a good point about Michael Douglas’ abuse of alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs.
How can you prevent an HVP infection and thus genital warts and cancer?
Funny enough, in his new film Behind the Candelabra released two weeks ago, Michael Douglas’ character Liberace is romantically involved with Matt Damon’s character. I hope they used condoms in the right way for every sexual encounter.