Douglas, Who Survived Oral Cancer, Waves Goodbye to 2020
- In an Instagram video, the actor urges people “to come back together” in his New Year’s message, saying 2020 has taught us to be aware of the medical and financial problems so many are facing.
- Douglas was diagnosed with oral cancer in 2010, which he attributes to having HPV, a sexually transmitted virus. After a year of chemotherapy and radiation, he was declared cancer-free.
- HPV can cause oral cancers as well as cervical, penile, and anal cancers. Taking the HPV vaccine Gardasil can reduce your risk.
“I guess the one thing you can say about COVID is that it brought us all a lot closer. We all understand each other’s problems a whole lot better, both medically and economically.”
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Douglas knows what it’s like to face serious medical challenges. In 2010, he was diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma, a form of oral cancer, after doctors found a tumor at the base of his tongue.
Since being declared cancer-free, he’s become an outspoken advocate for oral cancer awareness, especially the link between oral cancers and HPV, an incredibly common sexually-transmitted virus.
With his eyes set on 2021, Douglas said he’s wishing for peace and an end to divisions in the new year.
“We have to come back together before we can start out, all together, to make this place a better world.”
HPV and Oral Cancers
Douglas has said publicly that he believes his oral cancer was caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Nearly every sexually-active person will get HPV at some point in their lives, according to the CDC. The virus is spread via sex and can manifest as warts on your genitals or mouth.
Oral and throat cancers are both on the rise in young, non-smoking adults, and Dr. Allen S. Ho, an oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says HPV is to blame.
Dr. Allen Ho of Cedars-Sinai discusses how HPV can sometimes lead to throat cancer.
“The fastest-growing segment of the people developing oral cancers are young non-smokers,” Dr. Ho previously told SurvivorNet. “HPV, a very common virus, one responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers, is now identified as a cause of this rapid rise of oral cancers.”
Research has shown that as many as 60-70% of throat cancers may be related to HPV or to a combination of HPV and alcohol/tobacco use.
“From the 1980s to the 2010s, the rate of HPV-related head and neck cancers has gone up by 300 percent,” Dr. Ted Teknos, President and Scientific Director of University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
Treating and Preventing HPV-Linked Cancers
While there are methods to screen for cervical cancers that may have been caused by HPV, there’s no standard method for screening for oral and throat cancers.
“There are no screening guidelines to screen for throat cancer, unlike cervical cancer with pap smears,” Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet. “There are no standard tests to determine if you harbor the virus.”
“HPV related throat cancer generally is very responsive to treatment with radiation and chemotherapy, unlike cervical cancer with pap smears,” says Dr. Geiger.
Fortunately, oral and throat cancers caused by HPV typically respond very well to chemotherapy and radiation.
“The cure rates for people who have HPV-related disease are a lot higher than those who have tobacco-related throat cancer,” Dr. Geiger said.
The best way to prevent HPV-linked oral cancers is to get the Gardasil 9 vaccine as a young adult.
Delivered as a series of shots to people under the age of 26, this vaccine protects against the nine strains of HPV most likely to cause throat and oral cancers.
Dr. Geiger says getting the Gardasil vaccine before contracting HPV can protect you against certain cancers the virus might cause.
“The recent FDA approval for Gardasil 9 is an important preventative measure for head and neck cancer, especially those arising in the oropharynx. The use of this vaccine should have a significant impact on decreasing the occurrence of these cancers, which are often HPV related,” Dr. Mark S. Persky, a head and neck cancer expert at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
The American Cancer Society’s guidelines advise against getting the vaccine if you are over the age of 26.