By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The actor Michael Douglas is quoted as saying sex caused his throat cancer.
While his representatives are quibbling about exactly what he said, doctors say it’s a growing problem.
3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more, including a New Jersey patient who’s happy the movie star is raising awareness whether he wants to or not.
David Caldarella, who lives in Manahawkin, had throat cancer caused by HPV, the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease.
Michael Douglas reportedly said that’s also what caused his cancer.
“The biggest thing is it’s a killer. I’m very lucky to be here. Michael’s very lucky to be here,” said David.
Seventy nine million Americans have HPV, many don’t know because there are no symptoms, and increasingly it’s been linked to cancer.
Douglas did a PSA last year for the Oral Cancer Foundation, which he said, “a very common virus, one responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers is now identified as a cause of this rapid rise in oral cancer.”
The Guardian newspaper quoted Douglas as saying he contracted the virus that caused his cancer from oral sex. His people are now saying that was taken out of context.
“It’s something we’re seeing more and more,” said Dr. Joseph Curry, with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He says pathology tests on throat tissue can determine the HPV link.
“We know that the number of oral sex partners correlates with the risk for this kind of cancer. Some practices people think might not put you at risk, actually can put you at risk,” said Dr. Curry.
Doctors say there’s a long incubation period, probably 20 years, between being infected with HPV and developing cancer.
“It could have been a person you were dating when you were 18,” said David.
David, like Douglas, had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to get rid of the cancer. After his battle, he created the David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation to help other cancer patients.
“I think any time you can bring awareness to the topic and to the subject is a good thing,” said David.
Doctors say cancer caused by HPV is very rare. The virus usually goes away on its own.
There is a vaccine, now recommended for all teenagers, that’s most effective when given before they become sexually active.