This week’s admission by Michael Douglas that his throat cancer resulted from a sexually-acquired HPV (human papillomavirus) infection was somewhat of a surprise.
But it’s a good reminder to us all that cancer can be infectious.
2006 Australian of the Year Ian Frazer — co-inventer of a vaccine against HPV, which is currently being used to great effect in Australia — knows a thing or two about HPV. Today he wrote the following in an article for The Guardian:
HPV infection is incredibly common. More than 50% of men and women catch the virus within three years of becoming sexually active. Fortunately, the infection will clear in up up to 98% of cases; this occurs during the first few years after they catch HPV, and most of those affected never even know they had the infection in the first place. However, 2% of infected people stay infected, and remain at risk of cancer throughout their lifetime.
For those of you who are worried about the HPV status of Michael’s beautiful wife Catherine Zeta Jones, this story does not mean Michael contracted the virus from Catherine.
Cancers most commonly develop after 20 to 40 years after catching the virus.
[image thanks to euthman on flickr]