Last year, I cringed when Michael Douglas said his cancer was caused by "the same virus that causes cervical cancer" in a public service announcement for the Oral Cancer Foundation. I asked out loud, "Why can't he say HPV?" That was the big disconnect.
Now the connection has been made and everyone knows Michael Douglas was treated for HPV-related throat cancer, according to The Guardian. By speaking out, Douglas was able to flood the airwaves and Internet with HPV throat cancer headlines.
Thank you, Mr. Douglas. I couldn't be happier.
You see I've spent the last year learning about HPV throat cancer after my husband, Jeff, was diagnosed in March 2012. He went through simultaneous radiation and chemotherapy treatment like Michael Douglas. So far, Jeff is better but cancer free? It takes six or seven clear scans.
This week I am launching the positive results of that journey: HPVANDME.ORG is a multimedia news website intended to give people user-friendly information about HPV minus the medical jargon -- what is HPV, how you get it, how it turns into cancer, who's at risk, how to prevent infection, and how to look for early symptoms of HPV throat cancer.
I'm not a doctor so I interviewed Dr. Sara Pai, associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine -- Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery who is actively studying this cancer and the role of the immune system in fighting HPV throat cancer. Her answers resulted in a dozen videos that I hope people will watch and learn from.
There are more than 100 HPV types. The HPV-16 strain is the one that causes throat cancer. Dr. Pai says many people are able to clear the virus from his or her body in about two years. Others suffer from persistent infection and that's when HPV tends to develop into throat cancer.
But the reality is that HPV throat cancer is garnering headlines because you get it through oral sex. It's at once titillating and taboo but I hope this is just the beginning of the movement. I venture to guess that Michael Douglas held onto this news because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and as such, it makes some people uncomfortable.
But HPV throat cancer is not a rare disease, its numbers are increasing such that doctors are calling it a pandemic. Yet no one was talking about it ... until now. We can't afford not to talk about it.
20 million Americans get HPV each year. By 2020, the American Society of Clinical Oncologists say HPV throat cases in non-smoking, middle age men will surpass that of cervical cancer. (The ASCO met this week in Chicago where researchers presented a study that finds the likelihood of spousal HPV infection is low.) Women can also get HPV throat cancer.
Since I started writing about HPV throat cancer, I have heard from many strangers and friends who have either had HPV throat cancer, are helping a recovering patient and in some cases, who have sadly, lost a loved one. Closer to home, two of my kids' friends' fathers are being treated, another friend's brother and his friend ... the list goes on and on. And I'm only one person.
We can dramatically eradicate this cancer from another generation of men through education and having our boys vaccinated before they become sexually active or are exposed to HPV-16. The CDC recommends the Gardasil HPV vaccine for boys, yet pediatricians are not regularly administering it to boys as they do with girls.
Uncomfortable talking about oral sex? Get over it. No one wanted to talk about AIDS in its infancy ... or breast cancer for that matter. By talking about HPV throat cancer, Michael Douglas is my hero. He has turned the dimmer into a spotlight, illuminating the need for more awareness about HPV throat cancer. Let's make his courage worthwhile.
The Guardian is now reporting that a spokesperson for Michael Douglas denies "that Douglas said that oral sex was the cause of his own cancer, but was merely one of the many causes of oral cancer. " The Guardian has published its audio transcript of writer Xan Brooks interview with Douglas:
Xan Brooks: Do you feel, in hindsight, that you overloaded your system? Overloaded your system with drugs, smoking, drink?
Michael Douglas: No. No. Ah, without getting too specific, this particular cancer is caused by something called HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus.
The word is out. Learn about HPV throat cancer and help me spread the word.
Together we can fight HPV throat cancer.
I hope Mr. Douglas will join us in this important battle because we can win it.
Follow Pamela Tom on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pamelajtom