Why oral sex gave Michael Douglas throat cancer


In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Michael, who’s married to Welsh beauty Catherine Zeta-Jones, says it wasn’t drinking or smoking that caused his oropharyngeal (throat) cancer three years ago. “Without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus."

According to Professor Andre van Zyl of the University of Pretoria’s School of Dentistry, if you’ve had more than six oral-sex partners you’re 10 times more likely to get oropharyngeal cancer.

While drinking and smoking may also cause the disease, the sub-type of oropharyngeal cancer caused by HPV is more dangerous, Professor Van Zyl says.

HPV is unlike most STDs as most people will have no idea they’re infected. Technically HPVs are a group of 150 related viruses, more than 40 of which are spread through sexual contact. Sexually transmitted HPVs fall into two categories – high and low risk.

Low-risk HPVs can cause skin warts around the genitals, while high-risk or oncogenic HPVs can potentially cause cancers. Cancers caused by HPVs include cervical, anal, vaginal, vulvar, penile and oropharyngeal cancer.

The US National Cancer Institute estimates more than half of sexually active people have one or more HPV type at some point in their lives.

There’s currently no cure for HPV, but symptoms thereof, such as genital warts, can be treated.

There is however a vaccination against certain types of HPV. Consult your GP for more information.

If undetected, oropharyngeal cancer can completely destroy the lips and tongue, making it almost impossible to eat or talk.

Symptoms of the disease include a constantly sore throat, coughing, difficulty swallowing, ear ache, dull pain behind the breastbone, a change in voice or a lump in the back of the throat, mouth or neck.

-Kirstin Buick


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