By MAMAMIA TEAM
Michael Douglas, 68, has spoken publicly about what caused his throat cancer. Douglas was diagnosed in August 2010, and fought throat cancer until January 2011.
But it wasn’t smoking, or drinking that led to his throat cancer – the most common causes.
It was oral sex. Specifically, giving it.
In a candid interview published in The Guardian today, Douglas revealed, “… without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus.”
He continued, “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. And if you have it, cunnilingus is also the best cure for it.”
Once the walnut-sized tumor was discovered at the base of Douglas’ tongue in 2010, he was diagnosed with stage four cancer. This level of cancer is often terminal.
Douglas has now been free of cancer for two years, and is optimistic about his chances, saying, “with this kind of cancer, 95% of the time it doesn’t come back”.
There is so much to unpack here. Let’s do it carefully.
The sexually transmitted virus HPV is responsible for an increasing number of oral cancers, as well as the more commonly known genital warts and anal cancer.
Jokes aside (Michael Douglas cheekily mused that cunnilingus also ‘cured’ his cancer ), let’s clear up some basic facts around the link between oral sex and oral cancers.
Q: What does it mean when Michael Douglas says cunnilingus (the act of giving oral sex to a woman) can cause cancer?
A: HPV resides in muscous membranes like those found in the gential area. New evidence suggets that, because the mouth is a similar environment, the virus can also survive there.
The University of NSW recently undertook research that implicated the virus in oesophageal cancer. Although commonly thought of as a problem for women, who can develop cervical cancer if they are infected with the human papillomavirus, this new evidence shows that it is increasingly a problem for men, too.
Maura Gillison, Professor of Internal Medicine at Ohio State University in Columbus, claims that oropharynx cancers are rising in incidence in several regions in the world including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Denmark and Australia among other countries. Data from Sweden suggests this increase can be attributable to HPV, given that tumours that were analysed from the 70s had only 23% positive for HPV.
By the mid 2000s that had increased to 93%. In addition, cancer registries in Scandinavia have specimen banks where a large proportion of the population have donated serum. They looked at individuals who eventually developed oropharynx cancer and those who did not and looked back at serum that was collected on average 10 years before. And what they found was that individuals who had antibody HPV 16 in their blood had a 14-fold increase in their risk for subsequent development of oropharynx cancer.
The ABC has reported that now boys are being immunised against some forms of HPV, it’s entirely likely that in the next 20 years incidents of oesophageal will decrease dramatically.