A representative for actor Michael Douglas now says the actor doesn't blame his throat cancer on oral sex.
The Guardian newspaper published an interview Monday saying that Douglas attributed his illness to the HPV virus from oral sex. When asked about his cancer, Douglas said "without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV [human papillomavirus], which actually comes from cunnilingus."
But spokesman Allen Burry said later that Douglas never said that was the cause of his cancer. He said Douglas was discussing what causes oral cancer during the interview.
Health officials say smoking and alcohol are the main causes of oral cancer. The human papillomavirus, however, has been linked to one kind of throat cancer.
The 68-year-old Douglas has been free of cancer for more than two years after receiving extensive chemotherapy and has returned to acting.
Douglas has starred in many movies, including Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction. He is currently appearing in an acclaimed biopic about the late flamboyant pianist Liberace.
Smoking, drinking also risk factors
Dr. Michael Brady, who specializes in sexual health as medical director of the Terrence Higgins Trust, told The Associated Press that oral sex could have contributed to Douglas's cancer but that it was difficult to pinpoint a single cause.
He pointed out that Douglas had been a smoker and a drinker, two factors that he said are the most common causes of oral cancer.
"There are often a number of factors, genetic, environmental, viral, that could be playing a role," he said.
Brady said there are hundreds of different types of HPV and that in most cases, it is not harmful. The risk is so low, he said, that he does not believe people should worry or change their sexual practices.
Doctors estimate up to about one third of mouth and throat cancers are HPV-related and that the types of HPV found in the mouth are likely to have been caused by oral sex. Still, most high-risk HPV types are linked to genital cancers.
For some oral cancers, certain sexual behaviours, like having oral sex with four or more people in your lifetime, can raise the risk, according to Britain's Department of Health. Oral cancers caused by HPV are most common in heterosexual men in their 40s and 50s.
Douglas is married to fellow actor Catherine Zeta-Jones.