Actor Michael Douglas, in a recent interview with London newspaper The Guardian, said his throat cancer was caused by the human papillomavirus, transmitted through cunnilingus — oral sex performed on a woman.
“This particular cancer is caused by HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus,” Douglas said.
Douglas, most recently seen portraying Liberace in Behind the Candelabra, confirmed his diagnosis of stage IV throat cancer during a 2010 interview with David Letterman. His doctor had diagnosed him after spotting a walnut-size tumor in the back of his throat.
Though most people assumed that the cause was his infamous hard-partying lifestyle, which included heavy drinking and smoking, he assured the public that that wasn’t the case.
“I did worry if the stress caused by my son's incarceration didn't help trigger it. But yeah, it's a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer." He told The Guardian. "And if you have it, cunnilingus is also the best cure for it … it giveth and it taketh."
Mahesh Kumar, a consultant head and neck surgeon in London, spoke with The Guardian regarding Douglas's assertion that cunnilingus helped to cure his cancer. "Maybe he thinks that more exposure to the virus will boost his immune system," Kumar said. "But medically, that just doesn't make sense."
Douglas has been more than two years clear of the cancer, now only having to check in with his doctor every six months. With this particular kind of cancer, 95% of the time it doesn’t return, according to Douglas.
This recent confession is creating a lot of questions, especially among sexually active adults. Can you get throat cancer from HPV? Well according to the National Cancer Institute, you can.
Recent studies have shown that HPV infections have been found to cause cancer of the oropharynx, the middle section of the throat, which is the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils. In the United States, more than half of oropharynx cancers are linked to the HPV-16 form of the virus. The incidence of this cancer has increased steadily in the past 20 years, especially among men. In fact, it is estimated that HPV will cause more oropharyngeal cancers than cervical cancers by the year 2020.
If Douglas claims he was infected by way of cunnilingus, than it must mean that Catherine Zeta-Jones must have HPV too. However, they aren't alone. In fact, they're the majority.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, out of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections that occur each year, 14 million of those are HPV. Most men and women will get HPV at some point in their lives.
There are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas, mouth, and throat of men and women. The most common health problems cause by HPV are genital warts, recurrant respiratory papillomatosis, cervical cancer, genital cancers (vulva, vagina, penis, or anus) and oropharyngeal cancer (head, neck or throat).
Fortunately, our body’s immune system usually clears up most HPV naturally within two years, even though some infections may still persist. However, not everyone is fortunate to have a thriving immune system. Previous research has shown that around 75% to 80% of HIV-positive women also have HPV.
Women with both HIV and HPV are at a higher risk of cervical cancer and according to AIDS Beacon, 20% to 60% of HIV-positive women are showing precancerous cervical symptoms.
Currently, there are no Food and Drug Administration-approved tests to detect HPV infections in men. In women, they are usually diagnosed through Pap smears, which detect the presence of abnormal or cancerous cells in the cervix.
The FDA has approved only two HPV vaccines: Gardisil and Cervarix. Both vaccines are highly effective, but neither has been approved for the prevention of penile or oropharyngeal cancer. Currently there is no treatment for ongoing HPV infections, except for the cases of genital warts and precancerous lesions. The CDC recommends that girls from their teens through age 26 be vaccinated, and boys from their teens through 21 (26 if they’re gay or bisexual).
HPV vaccinations are most effective if they are done before the person has ever had sex.