It’s True. You Can Get Throat Cancer From Oral Sex

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Actor Michael Douglas

On Sunday, in an interview with the Guardian, actor Michael Douglas revealed that his throat cancer was not caused by tobacco and alcohol, but by HPV, which was transmitted through oral sex. He has since called the statement a misunderstanding, but it’s still true: you can get throat cancer from HPV.

In an eye-poppingly candid interview with the Guardian’s Xan Brooks, Douglas, who is married to actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, allegedly told the reporter his cancer was caused by the STD:

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?

“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.”

From what? For a moment I think that I may have misheard.

“From cunnilingus. I mean, 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 shrugs. “And if you have it, cunnilingus is also the best cure for it.”

Right, I say. OK. So what he is suggesting is that it all evens out? “That’s right,” says Douglas. “It giveth and it taketh.”

(MORE: New Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines Include HPV Tests)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause genital warts or present itself without symptoms. If left untreated, it can also cause cancers of the cervix, anus, penis, vulva, vagina — and head and neck cancers. “HPV being a cause of head and neck cancer was really only accepted about five years ago,” says Dr. Maura Gillison, a professor at the Ohio State University who studies HPV infections in the head, throat and neck. “Before then, no one really cared about oral HPV infections.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 60% of oropharyngeal cancers — cancers of the throat, tonsils and the base of tongue — are related to HPV. It is estimated that every year in the U.S., more than 2,370 new cases of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers are diagnosed in women and about 9,356 are diagnosed in men; they are most common in white men.

“It is a known phenomenon,” says Gillison. “In the U.S., there is an active shift going on. Fortunately thanks to tobacco policy and public-health awareness, the incidence rate for the classical head and neck cancer caused by smoking is declining. But unfortunately, the rate of oropharynx cancer is still going up and it’s because of the HPV component.”

In 2011, Gillison and her colleagues conducted a study looking at the proportion of oropharynx cancers associated with HPV over time in the U.S. The proportion increased from 16% to 72% from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. “The incidence is rising pretty rapidly in the U.S.,” says Gillison. “Approximately 10% per year, particularly among Caucasian middle-age men.”

HPV-related throat cancer presents similarly to tobacco- and alcohol-related throat cancer, but they are considered two separate diseases, says Gillison. There are about 15 different HPV types that are established causes of cancer. The most common are HPV 16 and 18, accounting for about 70% of cervical cancers. “For oral infection, we find the same types of HPV in the oral cavity as we do in the cervix or genital region for men, but the infection is considerably less common,” says Gillison.

(MORE: Government Panel Recommends HPV Vaccine for Boys)

Oral HPV doesn’t benefit from the comprehensive testing and preventative procedures established for HPV of the cervix. Women who get regular Pap smears are quickly tested for cancerous changes that may be caused by HPV of the cervix.

“When HPV was recognized to be the cause of cervical cancer, the entire algorithm for doing Pap smears and referring a patient to a gynecologist was already established,” says Gillison. “The researchers were able to just piggyback all of their analysis and testing for HPV on the cervix onto something that was already established in the field. For oral, there is no established screening algorithm so there is no piggybacking onto routine clinical care.”

There is currently no method to routinely test for oral HPV, nor is there a way to test men for genital HPV. Researchers are working on developing clinical tests for the virus, which is among the most common STDs: researchers say most sexually active people will likely have an HPV infection at some point, but many never know. The infection doesn’t always present symptoms, and typically clears the body in one to two years.

According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, it is estimated that 20 million people in the U.S. currently have HPV infection, and 1 in 49 people will contract a new HPV infection each year.

Physicians recommend the HPV vaccine for both young boys and girls to prevent infection from the disease.

98 comments
robertmrtn119
robertmrtn119

Micheal Douglass is right. I got mouth cancer, from trying to please women. 7 weeks of radiation, and i cant grow a beard no more. I can't even taste food the way i used to. I still have  sidefects. Its been 6 years. So please think twice about going low on a girl. 

mazin.than
mazin.than

well, how could anyone be sure that he only did this to his wife to assume that it was caused by her!


MonteSchlegel
MonteSchlegel

Poor Michael Douglas.  Catherine Zeta Jones gave him an HPV and cancer.  Now wonder he's considering divorcing her.  God only knows how many guys she screwed before she met Michael.  And God only knows how many different venereal diseases she has.

Andee
Andee

Excuse me, Abraham, you sound like the typical closet queen! Try it once and then talk spilled semen! Sheesh!

AbrahamYeshuratnam
AbrahamYeshuratnam

Douglas revelation should serve as a warning to men involved in gay marriages. Semen created by God for creation is being spilled into throats and thighs by gays. The very thought of oral sex is disgusting. It is sickening that gay marriage is given lot of publicity. 

Andee
Andee

So much time wasted on what one man had to say in jest.  I can assure you that there is no physician who would tell a patient the cancer was caused by any one thing. Women who have cervical cancer can also be diagnosed with HPV.  Not all women with HPV will get cancer.  It is one theory that numerous partners heighten the risk of HPV in women.  A gay male family member was diagnosed with HPV of the esophagus after having had heartburn for years.  Eventually it became cancerous and he succumbed.  Research that I did at the time indicated that many gay men have HPV of the throat, esophagus, as well as nether region,  and whether or not it will become cancerous is dependent on their immune system, age and countless other reasons.  There is cancer research galore and the closest any study has done is there are many carcinogens in our midst, asbestos and tobacco being two, yet no true causes have been pinpointed, and most cancers are treatable if caught early, but no cure yet.  For Mr. Douglas to say, "it was not caused by smoking or alcohol. but by oral sex and was treated with oral sex" must be his attempt at humor.  I think he is a great actor, but this was not funny.  

MuricanBob
MuricanBob

"It giveth and it taketh". This guy

Sandrunner
Sandrunner

If the virus can be transmitted to the mouth and live there, then could it be transmitted from mouth to mouth?  If not, does anyone know why?

ShawnArscott
ShawnArscott

Free advertising for companies that push the HPV vaccine. And perhaps advice to know your partner. I am enjoying sex with my love rather than taking this vaccine.

SebastianValmont
SebastianValmont

Who'd a thunk it? Damn you, cancer! For tainting yet another of our guilty pleasures. The really disturbing thing? It took Michael Douglas to tell us this.

- rate my comment on puffsky.com

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Truly a disgusting revelation by Mr. Douglas that has zero place in the public discourse.  Some things are better kept between a patient and his doctor.

EvenSteven
EvenSteven

I just found a pubmed study that showed the odds ratio of squamaous cell oropharyngeal cancers was 2.2 times higher in smokers with HPV than in nonsmokers with HPV.

Most of us are exposed to HPV at some point in our lives and nearly all of us clear it spontaneously in two years.  It seems that smoking is a link in the pathway from benign infection to malignancy.  Think of the lining of our mucous membranes as dry grass, HPV as the spark and tobacco as the wind.  The first two are necessary for a fire but the third additional factor really increases the chance of a runaway grass fire.

marywms12
marywms12

In the article, there is a assumption that Squamous cell carcinoma of the back of the throat is caused be one of the 15 HPVs that are known to be associated with cancer...but here's the deal...there are over 100 HPV viruses including non sexually transmitted warts. Also there is a correlation between the HPV infections and the mutation of gene P53. P53 helps suppress cancers to grow - HPV screws up the gene's function, cancers grow. Bottom line...the headlines should be reading To Be Continued......

dcolumbare
dcolumbare

His home life with Catherine might have been happier if he just let people think it was smoking and alcohol .

joshstrike
joshstrike

If 60% of oral, throat and neck cancers are caused by HPV, that makes giving head more dangerous than smoking a cigarette. Hey Bloomberg. Why don't you pass a law against oral sex, now that you banned all the smoking outside your cigar bar at the Midtown Sheraton? Oh wait it's cause you're a c***s*cker.

pmug
pmug

It wasn't the smoking, Michael ?  Really ?  Someone is in deep denial.

robertmrtn119
robertmrtn119

@JonathanMartin No, it dont work that way. Its not what you do now, its what happened in the past. Cancer doesnt show up right away, it comes out later in life. Dont disrespect what you have now, and dont worry about what happened in the past. Just be ready for if something does come up. Go to god first. Then you can figure everything else out after that

DanP
DanP

@Andee How true.... I have read that with a healthy immune system, the HPV will be cleared by your system, or if nothing else remain dormant. But I'm figuring all that drinking and smoking that Mr. Douglas did in his early years, sure did not help his overall health.

nokomis
nokomis

@Sandrunner    Good question and I also would like to know the answer. My gal recently informed me that she has given oral sex to a couple of men before she knew me and now I have reservations about kissing her on the mouth in case she has oral HPV. I'm not very happy about this!

vgupta123
vgupta123

@ShawnArscott The advertisement is not free. The HPV vaccine makers will find many ways to return the favor to Time magazine. 

GreyMan
GreyMan

@mrbomb13 Disgusting is a matter of opinion. HPV is a matter of fact. I thank Mr. Douglas for raising public awareness about the risk  of contracting cancer via HPV. No doubt that lives will be saved.

joshstrike
joshstrike

@mrbomb13 If someone said they got cancer from smoking, asbestos, or radiation, would you urge them to be quiet and keep it to themselves? Don't you think that if this is the cause of 60% of these cancers, it's important to have a serious conversation about it?

And anyway, if you think muff-diving is disgusting, I promise I'll still cry for you when you get rectal cancer from being such an uptight a******


EvenSteven
EvenSteven

@mrbomb13 It may be an awkward topic, but a timely one.  The larger issue at hand is the practice of Big Pharma trying to vaccinate every preteen boy with Gardisil.  This will be cause a big boost in their sales, no doubt.  The big question is whether or not such a program will actually decrease the incidence of male HPV cancers and if so, how much will it cost the public coffers per case prevented.

marywms12
marywms12

@EvenSteven  the link isn't just smoking, but a combination of drinking and smoking...It's usually an old male alcoholic that smokes a lot that comes down with tongue to gastric CA. Then there is a subset of HPV CA victims. Look into the fact that (a) HPV virus mutates the gene P53 and it's relationship to SQ. Tonsillar CA

jorost
jorost

It doesn't make giving head more dangerous than smoking a cigarette.  Not even close.  It has to do with how percentages work.  60% of what?  It all depends on how many throat cancers there are a year (not to mention how much head).  It turns out there are 24,000-39,000 (cases of throat cancer), which would mean that between 14,400-23,400 were caused by HPV (assuming all the numbers are correct).  How much oral sex do you think is performed every year?  Hard to say.  There are around 300,000,000 Americans.  Let's say 10% of Americans perform oral sex at least once a year (probably a very conservative estimate), that would make 30 million servings of head, which translates to 0.078% of oral sex resulting in throat cancer.  Not very dangerous at all.

joshstrike
joshstrike

@pmug obviously from a guy who's wife never let him smoke a cigarette (let alone eat her out)

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

Well, I'm not married, but I do have a girlfriend of 9 months.

I would be hard-pressed to see how she would hate me, especially since I don't tell her that I think prudent individuals will get rectal cancer.  Perhaps you could elaborate.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

First, thanks for your reply.  Just a couple of comments:

1) Asbestos/Radiation/Smoking are not examples of lewd acts, and are therefore not analogous to Mr. Douglas' situation.  Radiation/Asbestos-poisoning comes about with little-to-no notice by the affected individuals (until many years after the fact).  For decades, the effects of smoking have been publicly known, and any individual who smokes in light of those warnings is only inviting risk of those effects.

2) If you read my original comment again, you will see that I did not advise Mr. Douglas to maintain total silence.  Clearly, I stated that he should confine that conversation to the privacy of the doctor's office.  Doing that will allow him to get a more accurate description of his condition.  If you re-read the article, you will notice that Mr. Douglas' interview testimony was not completely true, and medical experts have poked holes in his publicized description.

3) As with anything else, there is a time and a place for everything.  I do not believe that Mr. Douglas is a qualified medical expert, which should leave the discussion of a potential oral sex-HPV connection to a trained professional.  That is the mandatory parameter of any "serious conversation" on the topic.  A Hollywood celebrity who may or may not be affected  is not qualified to lead such a discussion.

4) I never said that muff-diving is disgusting.  All I said was that one should keep those kinds of acts private, and out of the tabloids.

5) Grotesque humor will not advance your argument, especially when being "uptight" has nothing to do with rectal cancer (which actually hurts/kills people).  Nice try, though.

joshstrike
joshstrike

@EvenSteven I agree, btw -- there should be no public requirement for vaccinations against STDs, because unlike other diseases (which there _must_ be a public vacc requirement for), there is no such thing as herd immunity when it comes to STDs. Everyone's basically on their own. I have no real dog in the fight as to whether the HPV vacc is real, effective, ethical, or anything else. Personally I'm an advocate of strong personal freedoms and individual liberty, which includes (and encompasses) being a militant and happy smoker. So my interest here is primarily in how far it knocks the legs out from under the ludicrous (Big-Pharma-funded) argument that my cigarette smoke, even if I'm standing out in the middle of Central Park, could possibly be causing somebody cancer 3 blocks away. Insofar as that argument is demolished, I'm happy; and I'm on your side against some corporation selling cures for artificial diseases they've gerrymandered the statistical data for. Having said that, HPV is no joke, so one would think responsible parents (not the gov't) would get their kids vaccinated.

vgupta123
vgupta123

@EvenSteven @mrbomb13 You have hit the nail on the head. This article is an unabashed ad for the HPV vaccine Gardasil. But there is no evidence that this vaccine has prevented a single case of cancer or saved a single life. 

joshstrike
joshstrike

@jorostWhat you're discounting here is that in a single shot, (no pun) a single serving of head can account for a case of full-blown cancer. Whereas it takes a cumulative lifetime of tobacco use (average serving of 20 cigarettes a day for at least 15 years == 109,500 cigarettes) to statistically increase one's lifetime chances off oral cancer.


Probably more like 90% of Americans engage in oral sex during their lifetime. But let's take your 10% figure. If only 30 million people in the US ever gave head, once, and the prevalence of HPV in the US is 14,100,000 (according to recent estimates: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/) then the probability of contracting it would be 4.7% for each serving of head. That means 1.41 million (4.7% of 30M) cases of oropharyngeal cancer in the current population can be traced to oral sex; Actual prevalence of oral cancer is about 1 in 10,000 in the population (i.e. 30,000 per year). Meanwhile plenty of lying pharmaceutical-company-backed studies (http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/cancerstats/types/oral/riskfactors/oral-cancer-risk-factors) place tobacco as accounting for 70% of this type of cancer. How's that possible?

marywms12
marywms12

@jorost  Ahhh but here's one for you..breaking it down by gender, women perform the deed far more than men and yet, men outnumber women when it comes to throat cancer.

foxtrottango
foxtrottango

WTF is wrong with you? can't you just pass people's opinions respectfully if you don't necessarily agree with?

joshstrike
joshstrike

@mrbomb13 I'll elaborate. What's disgusting is your attitude that there are some things that aren't fit for "public discourse". The general problem with public discourse, presently, is the despicably low level of honesty in it. And the low level of honesty is caused by people like you -- and has been for hundreds of years -- who have a warped idea of right and wrong, where any act of consensual sex can somehow it into the "wrong" category. While meanwhile you let pass multiple genocides and the total destruction of the earth under your nose in the span of your own lifetime. 

This is because you and your forefathers have been basically afraid of vaginas, and learned that somehow they were "disgusting". I'm sorry for you, and your girlfriend, but the only thing disgusting or wrong here is your inability to cope with reality.

joshstrike
joshstrike

@mrbomb13 But your basic premise in point 1, above, is that announcing to the world that you got cancer from a lewd act is somehow _less acceptable_ than announcing you got it from something else. Smoking, for instance, is generally within one's own control; yet admission that smoking caused his disease wouldn't have raised your hackles. You are offended and upset that rather than blaming it on cigarettes, he blamed it on oral sex. And weirdly, you'd think people who were anti-sex like yourself would want to _promote_ the idea that it gave you cancer. But just having it out in public is too inappropriate? Come on. If over 90% of adults do it, why do we have to have these stupid rules where we never say anything about it? Can't thinking adults just put it out in the open and stop pretending it doesn't happen? What's so inappropriate about that?

vgupta123
vgupta123

@joshstrike @mrbomb13 Thank you for the homework assignment, sir. When is it due? And how much will it count towards my semester grade?

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

There may be no scientific evidence, but there is theological doctrine that prescribes against it.  You may want to consult your local theologian on that point.

joshstrike
joshstrike

@vgupta123 @EvenSteven @mrbomb13 There's also no evidence that giving head causes people to go to hell, but that's what people who are against having their 13 year old daughters vaccinated seem to believe.

joshstrike
joshstrike

@marywms12 @jorost Also, gotta love page 11. The more education the mother had, the more likely they are to give head before, during and after regular sex.

joshstrike
joshstrike

@marywms12@jorostActually, I thought you were wrong, but I was surprised when I looked it up. Check this out. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr056.pdf‎ ...look at page 10. Apparently, 59.6% of women 15-24 years old had given oral sex and 62.2% had received. The same disparity holds throughout age groups; age 22-24, 80.3% had given it and 83.4% had received (so much for your "conservative 10%" jorost). So no, there's no mismatch there.