Michael Douglas, Oral Cancer, and the Growing Threat of HPV

When Michael Douglas announced on The David Letterman Showthat he has throat cancer recently, concern and support poured out from fans around the world. Beyond the initial surprise of a well-known and talented actor being stricken with this insidious disease, a surge of interest followed with the questions of what, why and where this cancer comes from. Throat cancer, an oral cancer which is a member of a group known as oropharygeal cancer commonly forms at the base of the tongue, the back of the mouth and the uvula, the tonsils, and the back and side walls of the throat. While the traditional risk factors for this cancer include tobacco use and alcohol, the growing risk factor is infection with Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Cancers associated with HPV most commonly occur in white males in their 50s and older, but the Oral Cancer Foundation reports that younger people are now getting oral cancers due to HPV infection.

Of the 34,000 cases of oropharygeal cancers diagnosed each year, HPV is now found in up to 50 percent of them with the base of the tongue being the most common site, which is where Douglas's Stage IV cancer was reportedly discovered. A ray of light in what is ordinarily a bleak diagnosis comes from a recent Johns Hopkins University research study which found that tumors that test positive for the HPV virus have better survival rates than those that aren't associated with the virus. This may be the reason that doctors offered Douglas a more favorable prognosis than typically with a Stage IV cancer.

Oral cancer can be prevented and cancers of the mouth, tongue, the tonsils, the throat, and the vocal cords are 95 percent curable if caught early. Sadly, most are not. Yet, some terrific new advances in technology for the early detection of oral cancers have been recently introduced. The Identifi 3000 Ultramultispectral diagnostic tool developed by the Trimera Corporationuses 3 wavelengths of light to illuminate suspicious lesions before they are even visible to the naked eye. Still underutilized and overlooked in routine medical and dental visits, the use of these early detection devices has not been mandated, but should be. Prevention remains of key importance.

Dr. Gerry'sA-List Steps for Oral Cancer Prevention:

  1. Abstain from unprotected sex, including oral sex, as HPV infection is transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
  2. Alcohol should be used in moderation.
  3. Avoid tobacco use.
  4. Increase your consumption of Antioxidants such as vitamin C, Coenzyme Q-10, Beta-carotene, Vit E and Selenium. They help neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals especially in the mouth.
  5. Try to eat a healthy diet that has a more Alkaline effect including healthy greens, fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugars which promote acidity in the body.
  6. Ask your dentist and physician to use an early detection device for oral cancer and get a screening at least once per year if you are over 17 years old.

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned aesthetic dentist and pioneer in the emerging field of rejuvenation dentistry, which improves patients' overall health and appearance by integrating total wellness with cutting edge oral care and restorative procedures. In addition to his private practice, research, and work as a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU College of Dentistry, he is an internationally sought after speaker, author and expert who has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. For more information, go to