Michael Douglas blames cancer on HPV: Can oral sex really cause cancer?

Michael Douglas battled back from stage four throat cancer — which he claims was caused by HPV.
Michael Douglas battled back from stage four throat cancer — which he claims was caused by HPV.

Michael Douglas, star of “Behind the Candelabra,” is a survivor of stage four throat cancer, and he has an unusual explanation for how he contracted it. He claims it comes from performing too much oral sex.

“Without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus,” Douglas told the Guardian. Can this be true? Metro spoke to Dr. Julie Sharp, senior science communications manager at Cancer Research UK, to find out.

What exactly is HPV?

It’s a virus that’s normally transferred through actual physical contact (skin-to-skin or sex). Although it is in most cases symptomless, it can cause things such as genital warts. HPV is very common. Eight out of 10 people will be infected with it at some point in their life even though in most cases, they won’t know anything about it.

How can HPV cause cancer?

There are hundreds of different types of HPV and around a dozen of them can increase the risk of cancer. They’re more associated with cervical and genital cancer but can be linked to certain types of mouth and throat cancer, through things such as oral sex. HPV infections most commonly occur to the fingers, hands, mouth and genitals, and can cause DNA damage in the cells. If it’s going to cause cancer it can be that you are exposed to a high-risk form of HPV just once; but obviously, the more sexual partners you have, the more you’re exposed to different types of HPV, increasing your risk of contracting one of the forms linked to cancer.

Michael Douglas has been married to actress Catherine Zeta-Jones for 12 years. Is it possible that he caught the HPV before their relationship began — some 15 to 20 years ago?

Yes. And that’s why these cancers are often diagnosed in older people, who might not even have been sexually active recently. So yes, it might have been a previous infection. Cancer doesn’t just develop overnight. You might have had an infection that led to a cell change and then over the years, those changes turned into cancer.

Would she have been at risk of getting the HPV from her husband?

I assume she would have been exposed to the virus at some point. It would depend on when he had it. The infection might have passed on by the time they got together, but the damage would have been done in terms of the cancer risk.

Douglas also claims that although cunnilingus was the reason he got cancer in the first place, it’s one of the best cures. Is this true?

I don’t know what he’s alluding to there. That doesn’t have any basis in science or research. I’m also not sure how he’s so certain that his cancer is linked to HPV. You can test for HPV, but I don’t know if you can see if someone had an infection in the past. It’s more likely that it was a combination of things. More than three-quarters of oral cancers in men and more than half in women are caused by smoking; alcohol also plays a big part. So they’re all risk factors.

So should people stop having oral sex if they want to reduce their risk of getting cancer?

With oral cancer, the main risk factors are still alcohol and smoking. There are hundreds of different HPV infections and only occasionally will someone be exposed to one that’s going to increase their risk of cancer. These cancers are very treatable and anything in the mouth and the throat, it’s easier to spot the symptoms. The main thing is for people to be aware and to get checked out if they’ve got things like ulcers, sores or white patches that don’t go away, difficulty with speech or swallowing and any kind of discomfort. Even dentists are trained to look for any unusual patches in the mouth.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
News

NY judge throws out lawsuit by Empire State…

A New York state judge has thrown out a lawsuit in which longtime investors in the Empire State Building claimed they were shortchanged out of hundreds of millions of dollars…

Local

Mysterious white flags appear over Brooklyn Bridge

Two white flags mysteriously appeared over the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday in place of the American flags that are a traditional fixture.

Local

Paint Nite: Get drunk and make a painting…

At Paint Nite, New Yorkers can drink and make a painting at a New York City bar.

National

Judge sets January start for murder trial of…

By Elizabeth BarberBOSTON (Reuters) - Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez will be tried in January for the murder of semi-professional football player Odin…

Arts

Don't miss 'Charles James: Beyond Fashion' at the…

Have you been meaning to see "Charles James: Beyond Fashion"? There are only two weeks left to get to the Met and catch this amazing American fashion designer's collection.

Television

Zac Posen talks 'Project Runway' and what it…

We talked to Zac Posen, judge and designer extraordinaire, about the new season of "Project Runway" and what keeps him coming back after three seasons.

Television

'Face Off' contestant David 'DOC' O'Connell sounds off…

David "DOC" O'Connell tells us about getting cast on Season 7 of Syfy's "Face Off," premiering tonight at 9.

Arts

PHOTO: Wildlife photographer Marc Mol captures amazing aerial…

This aerial image was taken by photographer Marc Mol who spotted the animals during an air safari in Zambia.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead…

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead pack

NFL

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will…

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will win Super Bowl?

NFL

5 players to watch at Giants training camp

Metro takes a look at five players who will be on everyone’s mind when Giants training camp gets underway.

NFL

'Vicktory dogs' travel road to rehabilitation seven years…

Of the dozens of dogs groomed by Bad Newz Kennels, 48 were rescued and 22 of the pit bull terriers have emerged at Best Friends Animal Society.

Tech

Learn Braille with these gloves

U.S. scientists have designed high-tech gloves to help users understand Braille in a matter of minutes.

Home

5 New Ikea products that will change your…

We round-up the latest must-have products.

Food

Recipe: Wolfgang Puck's Buttermilk French Toast

We recently spent some time chatting with restauranteur/celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at his Wolfgang Puck American Grille in the Borgata in Atlantic City. Puck wanted…

Style

Go retro with your sneakers

The best of wacky new sneakers.