When a Virus Causes Cancer

May 11, 2011 at 10:36 am , by

bacteriaThe human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer, which we’ve long known. But the virus may also lead to oral cancer (yes, from oral sex) as well as anal cancer and even bladder cancer. It’s one nasty bug. I’ve been writing about this since 2003, when I first heard Maura Gillison, M.D., present pioneering research connecting HPV to the rise in oral cancer.

Then, in 2007, I learned that my friend Stephen Reynolds had advanced oral cancer. He was in his 40s, had never smoked and was married with a 3-year-old son. Yes, his cancer was HPV-positive. And he bravely decided to talk about it. After he got through the grueling treatment, we worked on a groundbreaking feature together that ran in Reader’s Digest in 2008. It got a lot of attention. Still the mainstream media didn’t pick up and run with the topic.

Around that time, I heard that Grant Achatz, the 36-year-old star chef at Alinea in Chicago, had been diagnosed with advanced oral cancer. It got a lot of press, especially when his doctors told him the only way to save his life would be to have immediate surgery to remove his tongue. The horrible, even epic tragedy of a world-renowned young chef never being able to taste food again captured a lot of attention. I heard that he had never smoked, so I wondered if his cancer was HPV-related, and also wondered if he’d speak about it. He didn’t. He was busy trying to save his life. Read more

Michael Douglas, Greed, Cancer and Me

October 20, 2010 at 9:48 am , by

Update, June 2013: Ladies’ Home Journal has been reporting on the link between throat cancer and the HPV virus from oral sex since 2003. And we published this guest blog, below, in 2010. We were happy to learn this week that Michael Douglas is finally talking about this link in the media, which will help raise awareness.

According to a friend at Yahoo, searches for “throat cancer symptoms” are up more than 3,000 percent this month—“likely a result of actor Michael Douglas’ recent diagnosis,” she says. While I was sad when I heard Douglas was sick, I was hopeful that his ordeal might bring more awareness to this cancer, which is growing.

I first learned about the link between throat cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV; the same virus that can cause cervical cancer) years ago when I heard a researcher present a paper on it. Yes, oral sex can transmit this very common virus between two people and then, years or decades later, may lead to cancer. It happened to my friend Steve. And to a famous chef. And to the husband of another friend. And now Michael Douglas. (We don’t have direct confirmation about Douglas’ HPV status but publications such as People magazine have mentioned it.) Yes, women get it, too. Steve’s cancer treatment was brutal but three years later, he’s feeling strong and is cancer free. I asked him to share his thoughts in this guest blog.

Michael Douglas, Greed, Cancer and Me

By Steve Reynolds

It’s impossible not to have noticed Michael Douglas lately, given the press and his recent sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. A great actor, Douglas is cemented in the communal pop memory by his note-perfect performance in the 1987 film Wall Street.

It got me reminiscing about the ’80s, beyond yellow ties, pasta and cell phones the size of bricks. I was fresh from college, and New York was a blaring, braying juggernaut of energy, of greedy energy. “Greed is good.” It wasn’t just the guys in yellow ties who took that Gordon Gekko line literally. My own greed was a hunger to experience everything. I worked a job, did off-Broadway theater, partied as much as I could, had as much sex as I could. And now I wonder if it was then that I gave myself up to the HPV virus.

Douglas’ face and words are somehow part of those memories for me. And now here he is with the same disease: HPV-borne throat cancer, my throat cancer. He’s even being treated at the same hospital and maybe even by some of my same doctors. Read more

Dr. Lisa Checks In

February 4, 2010 at 8:00 am , by

Dr. Masterson

Lisa M. Masterson, M.D., stopped by our office yesterday (that’s her in the middle with me and Emily Chau, my fellow LHJ Health Lady) to fill us in on some of her latest adventures and causes. She was just back from Haiti, where she and her fellow physicians from the TV show The Doctors arrived with 7,000 pounds of much-needed supplies—and treated a number of victims. A specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Masterson helped a pregnant woman with a leg injury find the care she needed. See clips from that episode here.

Dr. Masterson, who’s based in L.A., was in New York for an event promoting screening for human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. She says that for women over 30, combining a pap test with an HPV test is the best way to prevent this cancer, which still kills some 4,000 women every year.

The good doc also got on her soapbox about the recent changes in screening guidelines for breast cancer. She’s afraid that many women will stop getting mammograms, especially if their insurance won’t pay for them to be done annually. She also wants to encourage women to continue to do self-exams, or at least “get to know their own breasts,” she says. “I’m seeing breast cancer more in younger women.” Feeling something and having it checked out by your doctor could save your life.