Michael Douglas and the debate over oral sex and cancer
Michael Douglas recently addressed his bout with throat cancer, leading many to believe that his particular battle with the disease was brought on by oral sex. But now his camp is backtracking on the comments.
In a candid interview with the Guardian newspaper, the actor said that he didn’t regret his years of smoking and drinking, which were thought to be the cause of his cancer when he was diagnosed three years ago.
“No. Because without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus,” the 68-year-old said.
The “Behind the Candelabra” star, who has been married to Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones since 2000, was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer in August 2010. That same year, his son Cameron Douglas was hit with a five-year sentence after pleading guilty to charges of distributing crystal meth and possessing heroin.
“I did worry if the stress caused by my son’s incarceration didn’t help trigger it,” Douglas added in the interview. “But yeah, it’s a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer. And if you have it, cunnilingus is also the best cure for it.”
HPV is indeed a sexually transmitted disease, but HPV infections don’t always lead to cancer, though some types of genital HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, according to the Mayo Clinic.
However, the medical debate continued over the weekend through Monday with some experts saying that HPV, along with smoking, could indeed bring on some types of oral cancers, USA Today reported.
HPV infections usually don’t cause any signs or symptoms in either sex, but some types can cause genital warts. High-risk types of HPV can cause persistent infection, which can gradually turn into cancer, and usually only cervical cancer, according to the clinic’s website.
More than 12,000 HPV-associated cancers occur each year in men, and of those, oropharyngeal cancers (back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils) are the most common, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
After his remarks, people began to look at Douglas’ sexual history, specifically with ex-wife Diandra Douglas (they divorced in 2000) and his current wife, Zeta-Jones. But over the weekend, Diandra Douglas said that she did not have HPV, according to TMZ.
Meanwhile, Douglas’ camp is trying to clarify his remarks by explaining that his cancer was not caused by oral sex and he was simply discussing cunnilingus as a suspected cause of oral cancer.
“In a discussion with the newspaper, they talked about the causes of oral cancer, one of which was oral sex, which is noted and has been known for a while now,” his spokesman Allen Burry told the Associated Press.
“He wants to make it very clear he never said that was the particular cause of his particular cancer,” Burry added in the New York Daily News.
As to what actually caused it, Burry said he didn’t think “it’s really anybody’s business anymore.”
“It’s pretty much out there what was said,” he said.
Douglas may not have been off base by suggesting that HPV, transmitted via oral sex or any other fluid-exchanging sexual act, could be a suspected cause of cancer, but it seems that chances are pretty slim.
“While there are dozens of types of HPV, only a few cause cancer. HPV-16 and HPV-18 cause about 70% of cervical cancers. For oral cancer, the most dangerous subtype is HPV-16,” Eric Moore, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, told USA Today.
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