The famous actor Michael Douglas is in remission from stage IV throat cancer that he at first announced was due to the human papilloma virus, specifically HPV 16 and oral sex. Of late, though, has recanted that statement saying that his particular cancer was due to other reasons.
This has caused a lot of confusion for those wanting clearer answers on the risks associated with oral sex and the transmission of this aggressive virus.
There are several strains of HPV that can be transmitted from one person to another. Some strains cause genital warts, some cause cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer while others, potentially in a case such as Michael Douglas described, cause throat cancer.
For most women this virus is associated with abnormal Pap smear results. This is the reason for regular screenings. It is reported that 50-80 percent of sexually active people have the HPV virus even with normal Pap tests or no symptoms of warts. The reason for this is that HPV is transmitted from skin-to-skin contact.
This means that actual intercourse does not have to occur to contract the virus nor does there have to be an exchange of fluids. Therefore in throat cancer, transmission is through mouth and genital contact.
Throat cancer can result from other factors besides HPV, such as tobacco (smoking and chewing), alcohol consumption, poor diet high in charred meat/red meat, and certain carcinogenic chemicals.
Symptoms often include a cough, pain in the throat, sensation of a lump in the throat, clearing the throat often, painful or sore tongue, change in voice (usually hoarse or lower voice), difficulty swallowing food or drink, and possibly bleeding in the throat or mouth that is ongoing for several weeks.
Diagnosis is typically done with a scope and biopsy. Unlike HPV of the cervix which can affect a woman from their first sexual skin-to-skin experience, throat cancer is often diagnosed in those older than 50 and is more common in men.
So what can you do? Be careful and be selective.