(somebody had to ask this)

Micheal Douglas, who was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2010, said in a recent interview with the Guardian:

Asked whether he now regretted his years of smoking and drinking, usually thought to be the cause of the disease, Douglas replied: “No. Because without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes about from cunnilingus.”

So the question arises: does it?

To be slightly more specific, to nail several possible variants on his claim with a single question and to put the results in context let me ask the question this way: Does oral sex (cunnilingus or fellatio) contribute to the risk of oral cancer? Is the risk significant in the context of other causes of this class of cancers?

  • 2
    I am more interested in his later claim that it also cures it :p
    – Chad
    Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 13:11
  • @chad I wish... Seriously, though, I suspect that claim warrants a separate question. Go ahead and ask it.
    – matt_black
    Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 20:45
  • @matt_black - I think that the claim "And if you have it, cunnilingus is also the best cure for it." was made in jest.
    – Chad
    Commented Jun 6, 2013 at 13:04
  • I would upvote this, were I not male :D
    – Vorac
    Commented Jun 8, 2013 at 5:34

1 Answer 1


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_and_neck_cancer#Human_papillomavirus, retrieved 2013-06-04 (Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License) says,

Recent evidence is accumulating pointing to a viral origin for some head and neck cancers. (ref)

Human papillomavirus (HPV), in particular HPV16, is a causal factor for some head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).(ref) Approximately 15 to 25% of HNSCC contain genomic DNA from HPV,(ref) and the association varies based on the site of the tumor, especially HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer, with highest distribution in the tonsils, where HPV DNA is found in (45 to 67%) of the cases,(ref) less often in the hypopharynx (13%–25%), and least often in the oral cavity (12%–18%) and larynx (3%–7%).(ref)

Some experts estimate that while up to 50% of cancers of the tonsil may be infected with HPV, only 50% of these are likely to be caused by HPV (as opposed to the usual tobacco and alcohol causes). The role of HPV in the remaining 25-30% is not yet clear.(ref) Oral sex is not risk free and can result in HPV-related cancer.(ref)

  • 1
    A good answer, but still lacks the context around the risks of cancers and different varieties of HPV. A little discussion of that context would make it a great answer.
    – matt_black
    Commented Jun 8, 2013 at 13:55

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