What We Should Really Take from Michael Douglas’ Interview

STORY BY Candace Bryan

Published: June 18, 2013

Last week, veteran actor Michael Douglas made headlines with his blunt comments about the throat cancer that has plagued him in recent years. In an interview with The Guardian , the actor spoke about how although cigarette smoking has almost exclusively been blamed for causing various types of oral cancers, it turns out that the sexually-transmitted disease HPV actually causes more instances of such cancers.

When Douglas was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2010, he publicly stated that he blamed years of excessive drinking and smoking. However, when asked in his recent interview if he regretted those life choices, he explained, "No. Because without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus."

Since these quotes went public, there’s been quite a bit of discourse in the media, trying to unpack exactly what Douglas meant, and whether or not he was saying that his specific case of throat cancer was caused by the STD and oral sex. But these discussions miss the point. Yes, it’s jarring to hear the actor speak so openly, especially given that few people really know about the connection between HPV and any cancer that isn’t ovarian. However, whether or not it did, he’s absolutely right that his cancer could have certainly been caused by the virus spread via mouth. In recent years, reports have shown that 72% of oral cancers are caused by HPV (whereas in the 1980s it was a mere 16%).

This increase is scary, especially given that HPV is by far the most wide-spread sexually transmitted disease. However, HPV can be prevented with a vaccine. And although treatment for oral cancers caused by HPV is by no means a walk in the park, most people who are treated do recover. At the end of the day, though, the story once again drives home the point that people need to be careful when sexually active, get checked up regularly, and stay informed about vaccination.

Via USA Today

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