Oral Sex Can Lead to Cancer

Michael Douglas says that oral sex may have led to his throat cancer.

Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Photo via DFree / Shutterstock.com

Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Photo via DFree / Shutterstock.com” target=”_blank”>DFree / Shutterstock.com

Michael Douglas told The Guardian on Monday that his throat cancer may have been caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) transmitted through oral sex. There are obviously a few worthwhile questions that arise from Douglas’s statement (can you get throat cancer from oral sex? Yes, you can.) as well as some not-so-worthwhile ones (did Douglas just out the HPV status of his partner, Catherine Zeta-Jones?). We’d like to focus on the worthwhile questions. Here is Douglas talking to The Guardian:

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.”

It’s true that some people may develop throat cancer from performing oral sex on a person with HPV, but guess how most people get that kind of cancer? From smoking cigarettes. Excessive alcohol use also increases the risk for throat cancer. For Douglas to overlook his well-reported lifetime of smoking cigarettes and heavy drinking and to blame it on oral sex seems a bit far-fetched. That said, there are some facts that could back up his claim.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology says that between 1988 and 2004 head, neck, and throat cancers that tested positive for the HPV rose a dramatic 225 percent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), oral sex can cause some cancers due to contracting HPV.  Each year in the U.S., HPV is thought to cause an estimated 1,700 oropharyngeal (the pharynx between the soft palate and the epiglottis) cancers in women and a whopping 6,700 oropharyngeal cancers in men. But, the CDC notes that other factors, notably tobacco and alcohol use, may also play a role with HPV to cause these cancers.

About 21,000 of these cancers are potentially preventable by HPV vaccines.

CNN reports that 42,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with oral cancer in 2013:

Approximately 42,000 people in the United States will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2013, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. This includes neck, mouth and throat cancers. When they’re found early, oral cancers have an 80 to 90% survival rate, the foundation says.

“Patients with HPV-positive cancers have better survival rates,” Dr. Anil Chaturvedi of the National Cancer Institute told CNN in 2011. “The precise reasons for the survival benefits are not clear, but tumors in HPV-positive patients tend to have less genetic damage. Because of that, they are more responsive to cancer therapies like radiation treatment.”

So yes, Mr. Douglas, your throat cancer may have very well been from having oral sex, but if the below photo is any indication of how much you’ve smoked in your life, it is irresponsible to blame it on sexual relations and not consider your other lifestyle choices.