When Michael Douglas mentioned in an interview that performing oral sex could be a risk factor for the type of throat cancer he had, his comments swept the Internet.
Now the Behind the Candelabra star is issuing a clarification.
“Michael Douglas did not say cunnilingus was the cause of his cancer,” his rep says in a statement. “It was discussed that oral sex is a suspected cause of certain oral cancers as doctors in the article point out, but he did not say it was the specific cause of his personal cancer.”
Later, at an appearance in New York, Douglas joked about the hoopla over his interview.
“I never expected to become a poster boy for head and neck cancer, but, if after what started out as trying to answer a couple of questions about the suspected sources of this disease results in opening up discussion and furthering public awareness, then I’ll stand by that,” Douglas, 68, said at an American Cancer Society event where he was honored with the Marvin Hamlisch Memorial Award, named after the late composer.
“Head and neck cancer can be caused by many things, including HPV virus, smoking, alcohol, drug abuse, genes, environment and stress,” the star continued. “I do not know what caused my particular cancer. If I did I’d have a Nobel Prize. I do know that I am here today because of all the incredible advances in cancer research and treatment. Early awareness is a key factor. If this episode contributes to public awareness, all the better.”
Douglas announced in 2011 that he had beaten his cancer after going through radiation and chemotherapy to treat a tumor on the base of his tongue.
Over the weekend, in an interview with the Guardian, he was asked whether he regretted drinking and smoking, because both can lead to oral cancers.
“No. Because, without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus,” he was quoted as saying.
He added: “I did worry if the stress caused by my son’s incarceration didn’t help trigger it.” (His son Cameron pleaded guilty in 2011 to possessing drugs in his jail cell while serving a federal prison sentence for drug dealing.)
“But yeah, it’s a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer,” the actor continued. “And if you have it, cunnilingus is also the best cure for it,” Douglas said jokingly.
His remarks did serve to raise awareness about HPV’s role in a certain type of oral cancer, namely those classified as oropharyngeal cancer, a cancer that affects the back third of the tongue, the soft palate, the side and back walls of the throat and the tonsils. But experts say that the clarification was in order.
“Oral sex doesn’t cause oral cancer,” says Dr. Maura Gillison, a head and neck medical oncologist and professor at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It’s a means by which to acquire an infection that rarely causes cancer.”
A recent study by Dr. Gillison found that 1 percent of the U.S. population has the HPV 16 oral infection, the form of HPV associated with cancers of the oropharanx or middle throat. It typically takes two to three decades before someone with this virus develops cancer, Dr. Gillison noted.
• Additional reporting by SARA HAMMEL