At a time when “there’s not a lot of good news these days,” actor and throat cancer survivor, Michael Douglas, 75, announced on Instagram today, “I was honored to receive an Emmy nomination from my fellow academy members.”
We were just as pleased to hear the news as Douglas, who has worked to raise awareness of the link between oral cancers and the HPV virus.Read More
Nominated for “lead actor in a comedy series” for his role in The Kominski Method, Douglas plays Sandy Kominski, an aging acting teacher whose best-friend, (played by Alan Arkin, also nominated) has just lost his wife to cancer.
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There’s not a lot of good news these days, so I was honored to receive an Emmy nomination from my fellow academy members. An opportunity to acknowledge a Best Series nomination to #ChuckLorre and Al Higgins; also nominated #AlanArkin, who leads a spectacular cast and makes me look good, and the strong support of @Netflix! Thank you all! MD #TheKominskyMethod #Netflix #Emmys2020
In the Netflix series, Kominski also has a brush with a biopsy that, after much anxiety, rules out prostate cancer in an early episode.
Michael Douglas’ Cancer Journey
In real life, the actor wasn’t quite as lucky. In 2010, when a sore throat persisted, he saw a doctor who detected a tumor on the base of his tongue. The tumor revealed stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma, an oral cancer.
Douglas underwent both radiation and chemotherapy treatments that year. After a long and difficult battle, he is now cancer-free and in good health, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. He continues to have regular check-ups to monitor his remission.
Douglas worked to raise awareness of oral cancers on behalf of the Oral Cancer Foundation in this 2016 PSA.
He went on to speak out about oral cancer, raising awareness about its link to the HPV virus.
“Oral cancers are increasing in the U.S. and, as in my own case, most people know little about them,” Douglas says in his PSA.
“The vast majority of humans in the U.S. will eventually get infected with human papillomavirus,” says Dr. Allen S. Ho is a head and neck surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
“The fastest-growing segment of the people developing oral cancers are young non-smokers,” he says, adding, “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.”
The human papillomavirus, more commonly known as HPV, is transmitted through sexual contact.
HPV and Throat Cancer
While many people are aware of the connection between HPV and cervical cancer, far fewer know that it can cause oral and throat cancers.
Cancers in the back of the throat are often caused by tobacco and alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but recent studies have indicated that as many as 60-70% of these throat cancers may be linked to HPV – or caused by a combination of HPV, alcohol, and tobacco.
“HPV related throat cancer generally is very responsive to treatment with radiation and chemotherapyhroat cancer, unlike cervical cancer with pap smears,” says Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center.
“There are no screening guidelines to screen for throat cancer, unlike cervical cancer with pap smears,” says Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center. “There are no standard tests to determine if you harbor the virus.”
On the plus side, HPV-related throat cancers are generally very responsive to a combination of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, according to Dr. Geiger. “The cure rates for people who have HPV-related disease are a lot higher than those who have tobacco-related throat cancer.”
Treatment Options for Throat Cancer
“In early-stage throat cancer, the cancer is confined to just what we call the primary tumor in the back of the throat or the tonsils, or the base of the tongue,” said Dr. Geiger. “
But if the PET scan shows that the cancer has moved to the lungs or the liver, then our approach would not be to cure cancer but to treat it and to keep it under control,” she says. “It’s really complicated because there are three stage 4s. It’s not like breast cancer where, once you’re Stage 4, you’re incurable,” she continues.
“In more advanced throat cancer cases, which is actually the most common stage that we see,” she adds, “in addition to the primary tumor, lymph nodes of the neck are involved.”
“Patients who have disease that has spread outside of the head and neck region, meaning below the clavicles, into the lungs or into the liver, we call that distant metastatic disease and by definition, those patients are considered incurable,” she continues, “So our efforts at treatment would be focused on palliative therapy, controlling the disease but, unfortunately, not curing it.”