In my humble opinion, Michael Douglas’s portrayal of Liberace in HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” was quite the performance well deserving of the publicity that Time Warner invested in the production. Buses plastered with Michael Douglas/Liberace’s visage ran up and down the avenues of New York for weeks prior to the film’s premiere. But it might very well be that Mr. Douglas’s greater role was that of the unintended unofficial and perhaps uncouth (if you take the New York Post at face value) spokesman for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and it’s causal relationship with oropharyngeal cancer. In a much reported interview that was published in The Guardian, he claimed that his stage lV throat cancer was caused by performing oral sex. “Without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus.” The fact that he was a heavy smoker and regular alcohol user was not factored into his assessment (not sexy enough?).
Here are the facts: Smoking is the single greatest cause of oral and throat cancers. Coupled with excessive alcohol use, the risk of developing these cancers is even greater, much greater. Human Papilloma Virus has been linked to 1 in 4 cases of oral and oropharyngeal cancer. Logic dictates that if one is a smoker, a drinker and has many sexual contacts with different partners, the risk of developing oral cancer rises exponentially.
“Cases of oral cancer resulting from exposure to the HPV-16 strain of human papilloma virus are hitting epidemic proportions in the U.S., most of the victims are men in their late 30’s and early 40’s who have developed tumors on the back of their tongues and on their tonsils from engaging in oral sex with multiple female partners.” (NY Daily News, April 19, 2011) It is because of this trend that the Center of Disease Control (the CDC) revised its guidelines concerning the administration of the HPV vaccine.
Originally the HPV vaccine was only intended for young girls around the age of 12. Currently the CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for boys and girls 11 or 12 years old. The relatively young age is to insure that they are well protected before being exposed to the virus and because the immune system is much more responsive at this age. The vaccine is given in 3 doses over a 6-month period. The CDC’s position is that the quadrivalent HPV vaccine prevents a variety of HPV infections that cause many of the 7000 new cases of related cancers each year including oral cancer.
The CDC has reported that currently the HPV vaccine is being under utilized by the female population. There is a concern among parents regarding the vaccine’s safety (recall the ongoing controversy regarding vaccines containing thimerisol and autism). The CDC has indicated that the safety of HPV vaccine is one of the most carefully studied, but resistance remains. This has contributed to the Center’s expanded guidelines to include boys in the vaccination protocol since their protection would also help reduce spread of the virus.
I have been much aware of the seriousness of oral and oropharyngeal cancer. Detected early, these cancers can be cured. The problem lies with early detection. All of my patients receive a thorough soft tissue exam with close inspection of the oral mucosa- the lining of the cheeks, tongue, floor of the mouth, hard and soft palate and tonsils. This is exam is accompanied by palpation (manual exam) of the neck and throat with special attention to the lymph nodes. With all of this, oral cancer in its earliest stages is still very hard to detect. That is why I introduced Velscope into my examination routine. Velscope is a diagnostic tool that by way of a specific wavelength of light can help detect oral cancer in an earlier stage because we are looking for changes below the tissue surface. Suspicious areas are seen on a follow-up visit and if necessary a biopsy will be scheduled.
So while Michael Douglas may have been called a cad by some for his insensitivity towards his wife in discussing intimate interludes, I think he has done a great service to those who may not have known of the risks posed by HPV.
Dr. Michael Sinkin has been practicing dentistry for over two decades. He truly cares about the experience his patients have and takes great pride in making them feel relaxed and comfortable during every visit. Come in for an appointment and experience a different kind of dental practice. To find out more about Dr. Sinkin, please link here