Human papillomavirus & Throat Cancer

Michael Douglas HPV Throat Cancer

Michael Douglas HPV Throat Cancer


We have already discussed Human papillomavirus (HPV) and it’s role in causing cervical cancer. However in recent days the role of Human papillomavirus in causing oral cancers has been in the media thanks to the assertion by Michael Douglas that oral sex gave him HPV which led to throat cancer.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a relatively common sexually transmitted virus that infects humans. HPV spreads via the keratinocytes of the skin or mucous membranes and can be transmitted that way during sex. One of the difficulties in avoiding HPV is that it often causes no symptoms in people affected with it. Some variants of the virus can cause warts and some can even lead to cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus and more.

In the United States oral cancers are on the rise and medical professionals suggest that as many as 10’000 cases could be prevented with simple vaccines.

Michael Douglas said that he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2010 and he believes that the cancer developed because of the HPV virus which he was infected with while performing oral sex. The 68 year old actor told the Guardian newspaper: “Because without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus,”

The actor’s publicist Allen Burry later clarified the statement, saying that Douglas “never said it was the cause of his particular cancer. They did discuss it. He did say oral sex is a suspected cause of certain oral cancers. He did not say it was his specifically.”

The statement by Douglas is backed up by recent trends in the United States which have seen the HPV virus partially responsible for the increasing number of throat cancers, according to some doctors.

In the United states over 60% of the 11’718 cases of oropharyngeal cancers diagnosed each year are a result of HPV infection according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 3000 Americans are diagnosed with anal cancer each year, brought on by HPV and the rate of infection appears to be climbing.

There has been a recent push to vaccinate women against the virus to lower cervical cancer rates, but only 2% of boys are vaccinated against HPV in the United States. Statistically men are more likely to get HPV than women, due to sexual activity, so it is a deeply concerning figure.

Dr Kevin Cullen of the University of Maryland’s Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center says: “By the time they become adults, throat cancer from HPV in men is four times more likely than cervical cancer in women.”

It usually takes more than 20 years after exposure to the HPV virus for a cancer to develop. Medical professionals suggest that the younger generations changing sexual behavior, including more oral sex, is leading to a higher risk of HPV spreading throughout the community. Orpharyngeal squamous cell cancers, those of the throat, tonsils and base of the tongue are already on the increase.

Some studies have already reflected an increase in the prevalence of oral sex and the rise in oral cancers. In most developed countries more than 50% of all girls are vaccinated against HPV, and that figure is increasing every year. However with the small number of boys being vaccinated, there is a real risk of a throat cancer epidemic in coming years. Women can also get throat cancer from HPV, but the rate is much lower than men.

Two licensed vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix are available in the United States and recommended by the CDC. Both of those vaccines will protect against cervical, anal, and oral cancers caused by HPV virus transmission.

The virus is still very common with nearly 80 million Americans infected with HPV and an estimated 14 million more getting the virus every year. The virus is so common that nearly every sexually active adult will get some strain of the virus in their lifetime.

In a socially conservative country like the United States, unfortunately many people are reluctant to get their daughters vaccinated because they don’t believe their daughter will be sexually promiscuous. However even if your daughter has only 1 sexual partner in their lifetime, it is still very likely they will be exposed to HPV and could potentially get cervical cancer from that infection. In addition other forms of sexual activity can spread the virus, so even if they aren’t having penetrative sex and remaining a virgin, they may be having oral sex and receive the virus.

Overall the rate of vaccination is increasing, so cervical cancer rates are falling, but it remains a significant problem amongst young men and the potential for a oral cancer epidemic in the coming years is very real.

Heartburn Linked to Increased Cancer Risk

Heartburn Cancer Link

Heartburn Cancer Link

A new study suggests that there may be a link between heartburn and certain cancers, such as throat cancer and vocal cord cancer. However the study also suggests that over the counter antacids can help reduce the cancer risk from heartburn.

The author of the study, Dr Scott Langevin, suggests: “Previous studies examining gastric reflux and cancers of the head and neck have generated mixed results, (Our study) is a large, population-based study with robust parameters that strongly suggests gastric reflux, which causes frequent heartburn, is an independent risk factor for cancers of the pharynx (throat) and larynx (vocal cord).”

Gastric reflux is commonly known as heartburn and is a result of stomach acids backing up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest or throat. A number of things can cause heartburn, including excessive alcohol consumption, consumption of certain foods, and even pregnancy (where the baby puts weight on the stomach).

GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) and GORD (gastric reflux disease) are the terms given to people who have a more long term form of heartburn where mucosal damage is caused by stomach acid coming up into the esophagus.

With GERD, the protective barrier between the stomach and esophagus changes and the opening to the stomach stays abnormally relaxed, allowing stomach acid through. As the acid damages the cellular lining of the esophagus it can contribute to the risk of throat cancer forming according to the research.

The research looked at over 600 throat cancer and vocal chord cancer patients in the boston area and looked at the prevalence of heartburn related illnesses in those patients compared to another group of 1200 healthy individuals with no history of cancer.

The research used a questionnaire examined family history, smoking history, alcohol consumption and also tested for papillomavirus (HPV), which can raise the risk of oral cancers.

The study found that people with heartburn had a 78% increase risk of developing cancers of the vocal chord or throat if they were not heavy smokers or heavy drinkers. People suffering from heartburn, who took antacids, had a 40% reduced risk of cancer of the throat or vocal chords regardless of the presence HPV, heavy smoking or heavy drinking. Over the counter antacids were used in the study, so it is unknown whether prescription medications or home remedies would have the same protective effect.

The reason why antacids are so effective is unclear, the researchers saying: “We have hypothesized that by neutralizing the pH of the stomach acid reaching up into the throat, the antacids prevent chronic irritation and cellular damage that can eventually lead to cancer. However, anything that we offer at this time would be merely speculation.”

More studies will be required to understand the reasons why antacids are so useful in preventing cancer of the throat and vocal chords. Other risk factors for throat cancer include chewing tobacco, a poor diet and excessive alcohol consumption.