Originally posted in the mom.me blog by Madeline Holler on June 13, 2013
I’m of the mindset that whatever happened in Michael Douglas’s throat should stay in Michael Douglas’s throat. Last week, when Douglas told the Guardian that oral sex is the reason he’s suffering stage four throat cancer, I think we all learned more than we wanted to.
But as long as the cat’s out of the bag … no, that’s not what I want to say. As long as the cunnilingus-throat cancer connection made headlines (ack! I’m still seeing a pun in there) let’s try to find a positive angle in all this TMI: perhaps a greater interest in 1) Gardasil and Cervarix, the vaccines against two types of human papillomavirus virus, and 2) the benefits of these vaccinations for boys.
When Gardasil was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006, it wasn’t spared the controversy many life-saving vaccines had gotten caught up in. Back then, British researcher Andrew Wakefield’s research that concluded a link between the MMR vaccine and autism had yet to be discredited—which it was, conclusively, in 2010. In addition to the minority, but vocal, opposition to all things vaccination related, Gardasil had the added marketing issue that it protected against the most common sexually transmitted infection, HPV. Some otherwise pro-vaccine parents refused the shot, worrying that it would encourage their 12-year-old daughters to go out and have sex.
Also, though Gardasil’s main intention was to prevent cervical cancer, the company and some doctors recommended boys get the vaccine too, as it not only showed promise in preventing anal cancer, but it also helped prevent the spread of HPV from unsuspecting infected males to their female partners. But studies showed parents rarely submitted their boys to the shots.
Perhaps now that will change.
A report in the Boston Globe found that 70 percent of all throat cancers, which are on the rise, are the result of HPV infection. Researchers think that shifting social norms and increased promiscuity could be the reason for the recent increase, now at 14,000 new cases diagnosed each year—including in patients who never smoked.
Now that we know there can be devastating consequences for men, perhaps Michael Douglas’s humblebrag will change how we think about medically preventing some types of HPV. Among my friends, there is little consensus on whether daughters should get the HPV vaccine. Very few of my fellow parents say they want their sons to get the shot.
I’m very pro-vaccination—the evidence is clear that they’re safe and effective and that my vaccinated kids and their vaccinated friends are why unvaccinated kids fare so well in our community. I’m also very much in favor of the HPV vaccine—my eldest daughter went through the three-shot cycle at 11 years old. Her sister will, too, in a few years. Were either to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, a type that could have been prevented with the shot, I would have a hard time living with the decision to pass up the vaccine. I’m grateful it exists.
Now that I know my son could be at risk, too, not just as a possible transmitter but as a patient, he’ll no doubt be going in for the shot when it’s time. (Though, I was planning to send him in for it anyway, on the notion that he shouldn’t be out there spreading HPV around.)
So, while hearing about Michael Douglas heading downtown with Zeta-Jones is more than I want to know about either of those two, I’m glad he spoke up, and so candidly. Maybe this means parents will consider vaccinating their boys at the same rate as their girls. And herd immunity will offer up protection in the bedroom, too.