Actor Michael Douglas has helped to raise awareness of HPV and oral cancer, campaigners say, but there are still myths to dispel.
Chris Curtis, 55, from South Shore, is a throat cancer survivor and says he hopes people will get the right messages from recent publicity.
Chris was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2011 and had to undergo radiotherapy and chemotherapy, as well as surgery. His cancer has caused by HPV (human papilloma virus), which recently hit the headlines after film star Michael Douglas talked about his own experience of cancer.
The actor, who is married to Catherine Zeta-Jones, was reported as linking this particular type of cancer with HPV and sexual behaviour.
The father-of-two was quoted as saying he also feared the worry of his son Cameron being jailed for drug offences might have played a part in his illness.
He said: “I did worry if the stress caused by son’s incarceration didn’t help trigger it. But yes, it’s a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer.”
His agent later said the Hollywood heavyweight was not saying he had developed throat cancer because of sexual behaviour – he was merely pointing out the link between sexual behaviour and some types of cancer.
Chris Curtis – now literally half the man he used to be after dropping from 22st to 10.5st as a result of his illness and treatment – said: “The one thing I wouldn’t want people to think is HPV is just a sexually transmitted disease, that it’s a dirty disease. That’s just not true.
“It can be contracted through skin-to-skin contact, someone might transfer it from their hand if they touch someone’s mouth and it can be spread by kissing.
“You might have only one sexual partner your whole life and still contract HPV.
“I wouldn’t want people to feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about it or go to see their doctor.
“But Michael Douglas has raised awareness in that people are now talking about it, which has got to be good.
“Currently we vaccinate girls against HPV, but we are campaigning for boys to be vaccinated too.”
Chris, who set up the Fylde coast head and neck cancer support group The Swallows, said: “The main message to people is – if they find something like a lump in their neck or throat, or have a sore throat for more than three to four weeks, or their voice goes husky or croaky, they should see their GP to get checked out.
“It might be nothing, but if it does turn out to be throat cancer, then the earlier you can start treatment, the better.”
The biggest risk factors for throat cancer are smoking and drinking alcohol, although in Chris’ case these were not activities he did.
Anyone who would like to contact The Swallows can visit www.theswallows.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris can be contacted on 07779 169 833.