The internet is always an ever-hungry place for rumors and gossip about celebrities. From Madonna’s alleged plastic surgeries to the illnesses that occasionally befall a celebrity, people seem to not be able to get enough of tabloid-style gossip and nasty comments. So is also the Michael Douglas cancer case, which got the internet all fired up about licentious rumors regarding how exactly he contracted it and speculating in a mean way about his personal life. Ever since news of his diagnosis (throat cancer with the HPV virus as a probable cause) broke out in 2012, the world was up and about to comment about his relationship with Catherine Zeta-Jones and to speculate about how their private activities may have caused his cancer, or to look at recent pictures of him in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the tumor.
The truth is that the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a DNA type of virus which can infect humans in a lot of different ways, sexual transmission being just one of them. A body with a low immune system can easily contract this virus just by exposure to it through environmental factors. We all have periods in which our immune system performs poorly, due to a lot of reasons: age, physical strain, a long period of fasting or dieting, stress, exhaustion, convalescence after a few illnesses in a row (like three bouts of the flu in a single season) and so on. Most HPV infections are silent (exhibit no symptoms) and only develop benign tumors (warts) after a while, or they can slowly transform these small tumors into cancers. This is what happened also in the Michael Douglas case, but it does not automatically mean that his illness was caused directly by sexual activity or that his trouble should invite lurid or mean comments. (Yes, we’re pretty upset with the internet whenever we see this kind of behavior regarding a story of illness – therefore you’ll find no photos of celebs in a vulnerable time here.)
Returning to the Michael Douglas cancer case, we believe that a far more constructive approach would be to simply focus on raising awareness for HPV infections and to focus on a better prevention of oral cancer (and cancer in general, since HPV is rarely associated with mouth or tongue cancer and usually causes cervical cancer). Therefore, we highly encourage you to spread this information: the HPV virus can be deadly if left undiagnosed and untreated until it reaches a stage 4 cancer in silence, but it is very easy to fight if caught early on.
To prevent infection with HPV (if we should all learn a lesson from the Michael Douglas cancer story, this is it), three steps should be considered. The first and most direct route is to have the vaccine against it – as of this year there are even two new generation vaccines on the market in many countries, and they have shown impressive results in keeping this virus at bay. If you would consider having this a vaccination as early in life as possible (as soon as puberty hits), then the virus would have very, very low chances of ever infecting you.
The second measure you can take against HPV is to have regular check-ups and screenings. For women of all ages – no matter if they’re doing anything considered unsafe behavior or not – a Pap smear once a year is basically a guarantee that you’ll never be too sick to receive treatment. The tricky thing about this virus – and what unfortunately led to the Michael Douglas cancer case – is that the illness doesn’t manifest itself until late, and if you have no symptoms you won’t be able to catch it at the right time. That’s why regular screenings and updates from your doctor are vital.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, try to avoid bringing your immune system down by keeping active but not strained, making sure you get enough fresh fruit and vegetables, but not over-dieting, and getting some fresh air and sunlight at least every other day. It may sound very simple, and it actually is, but if we’re busy we can find ourselves on the slippery slope of self-neglect very soon. Last, but not least, don’t forget that intense stress is the most powerful factors that damages our immune system, so try to avoid it as much as you can and remember to take care of yourself in the midst of everything else you need to do.