It wasn't smoking and drinking that actor Michael Douglas says caused the nearly fatal throat cancer he was diagnosed with three years ago. It was oral sex. If it sounds frank, that's because it is. For a celebrity to admit that performing oral sex on a woman gave him HPV in the mouth and that led to throat cancer is actually pretty shocking in the world of Hollywood.
And yet, his admission might do a lot of people a lot of good.
The reality is, there are a lot of health issues that people are too embarrassed to talk about, and any kid of STD is one of them. But HPV can be very dangerous and it's also prevalent among sexually active women and men. It can also cause cervical cancer.
Virtually all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infections, though not all HPV causes cervical cancer. Some strains just cause skin warts. The more dangerous strains can and do cause cancer, though. This risk can be heightened through smoking, having a weakened immune system, having many children, long-term oral contraceptive use (for increased risk of cervical cancer), poor oral hygiene, and more.
It's pretty grim and disgusting, but it's also something that needs to be openly discussed so people can know their risk and protect themselves.
Obviously, the first line of defense is to know your partner and know if they have HPV. But not everyone who has it knows, so the next line of defense is protection. Dental dams and condoms are a good start.
Of course, condoms aren't a guarantee since skin-to-skin contact can cause it and condoms don't cover everything. Abstinence and long-term monogamy are your best bets.
Good for Douglas for speaking out about this. Even if you are skeptical about his reasons (he is promoting his Behind the Candelabra movie), at least he IS speaking out and that will likely help someone out there who doesn't know this stuff. There needs to be less shame and more information so people can protect themselves.
Do you think Douglas can help others?
Image via HBO