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Cunnilingus, Michael Douglas’s Cancer, and the HPV Vaccine

Conservative Christians are calling for banning oral and anal sex between consenting adults, claiming that the practices allow for the spread of disease. Radio host Brian Fischer says that a rise in head, neck and throat cancers “among millennials” is a direct result of the influence of “Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.” He compares oral sex and homosexual sex to drug trafficking, pedophilia and bestiality. He hasn’t decided how offenders should be punished but he suggests either issuing summonses like parking tickets or putting them into programs akin to drug rehab. He says Liz Cheney (the daughter of former Vice President Cheney) is “not a patriot” because she may support gay marriage.

Those of us who want the government to stay the hell out of our bedrooms will gladly ignore such rants, but the health risks of sexual practices are real. Michael Douglas recently shocked the world by announcing that cunnilingus could have caused his throat cancer. He was right, it could have.

HPV causes several kinds of cancer

Most head and neck cancers are caused by tobacco and alcohol, but researchers believe that up to 80% of oropharyngeal cancers are due to HPV (human papilloma virus) infection. The cause can be confirmed by testing biopsy samples for HPV DNA. The incidence of throat cancer caused by HPV is rising rapidly (a 225% increase from 1988 to 2004) and has been attributed to an increase in oral sex. It is estimated that by 2020 HPV will cause more oropharyngeal cancers than cervical cancers in the US.

Approximately 15 types of HPV cause virtually all cases of cervical cancer; types 16 and 18 account for 70% of cases. Type 16 causes 85% of anal cancers. Types 16 and 18 cause close to half of vaginal, vulvar, and penile cancers. More than half of cancers diagnosed in the oropharynx are linked to Type 16. In addition, people infected with HPV may be three times as likely to develop esophageal cancer. DNA tests for HPV are accurate, but there are as yet no FDA-approved tests for detecting HPV virus in men.

HPV Vaccines

One of the Holy Grails of medical research is a vaccine to prevent cancer. Now we have 2 of them, Gardasil and Cervarix. Both vaccines are highly protective against HPV types 16 and 18, and Gardasil also protects against type 6 and 11. They have not specifically been approved for prevention of oropharyngeal cancer, but we can expect that they will accomplish that as well.

Only half of US girls age 13-17 have received a dose of the HPV vaccine, and only a third have received the full recommended series of three. Other countries have higher vaccination rates; the rate in Rwanda is 80%. Despite the poor uptake in the US, HPV infections in teens have fallen by half since the vaccines became available, suggesting that some degree of herd immunity is occurring. By one estimate, if the vaccination rate in the US equaled Rwanda’s, 50,000 lifetime cases of cervical cancer could be prevented.

The vaccines are most effective if given before sexual activity starts. A series of three injections two months apart is recommended at age 11-12 for both girls and boys. The cost in the US is a total of $450, not always covered by insurance; but the manufacturers have cut their prices to the world’s poorest countries to below $5 a dose. In poor countries, Pap tests are impractical, treatment of cancer is not readily available, and cervical cancer kills an estimated 275,000 women a year.

Two factors are responsible for the low vaccination rate in the U.S.: doctors are not pushing the vaccine and malicious rumors are frightening parents.

Irresponsible fear-mongering

Myth: The HPV vaccine has killed at least 21 girls (Mercola says 122).
Reality: Deaths have occurred after the vaccine; deaths have occurred in girls who were not vaccinated; not one single death has ever been attributed to the vaccine.

Myth: The vaccine has caused 9749 adverse reactions.
Reality: No serious adverse reactions have been attributed to the vaccine.

Myth: It has caused 10 miscarriages.
Reality: It has not been linked to miscarriages. Sure, 10 individuals may have had miscarriages after getting the vaccine, but the baseline rate of miscarriage is higher than that in women who have not been vaccinated.

Note: these 3 claims were based on reports to VAERS (the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System). VAERS only lists things that happened after vaccination; it doesn’t mean they were caused by vaccination. Relying on VAERS data is a post hoc ergo propter hoc error in reasoning. 57,000,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered, yet no deaths or serious adverse reactions have been linked to the vaccine.

Myth: It hasn’t been properly tested.
Reality: It was tested in thousands of girls before marketing, and the after-market experience with 57,000,000 doses constitutes a further test.

Myth: It hasn’t been shown to reduce the rate of cervical cancer.
Reality: It takes a couple of decades for those cancers to appear. Meanwhile, it has reduced the rate of the infections that cause those cancers, so it would be amazing if it had no impact.

Myth: It only covers a few strains of the virus.
Reality: Yes, but those are the ones that matter.

Myth: It will lead to promiscuity.
Reality: More than one study has shown that it doesn’t.

Myth: Mike Adams, the “Health Ranger,” says the FDA knew as early as 2003 that the HPV virus was not linked to cervical cancer.
Reality: What is he smoking? The entire scientific community accepts the strong evidence of a link.

Conclusion

We have a vaccine for cancer! A very safe vaccine that reduces the rate of HPV infections and therefore will reduce the rate of cervical cancer and several other types of cancer. If Michael Douglas had had the option of being vaccinated as a teen, it’s possible that it could have prevented his throat cancer. I don’t see any valid reason to refuse the vaccine other than perhaps its cost. My daughters were both vaccinated, and if I had a teenage son, I would make sure he got the vaccine too. And before anyone has a chance to suggest it, let me say that I do not receive any pay from Big Pharma nor do I own any stock in the companies that make the vaccines.

Posted in: Cancer, Vaccines

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