AN actor was diagnosed with head and neck cancer caused by oral sex.
Steve Bergman, then 55, was shocked when he received the life-changing news.
“I was super fit, I’m a runner and cyclist, had a healthy diet, and was not a heavy drinker at all,” the Londoner said.
After the initial blow of his diagnosis in 2015, Steve discovered the disease was likely caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is caught through oral sex.
HPV is a very common virus, infecting 80-90 per cent of people at some point in their lifetime.
It can be spread through any form of skin-to-skin contact, including kissing and sex.
It doesn’t tend to cause any symptoms, meaning most people don’t they have it.
There are over 200 different strains, only some of which can cause cancer, which can affect the cervix, the throat, anus, penis, vagina, and vulva.
Before his cancer diagnosis in May 2015, Steve suffered from several colds he couldn’t shake, alongside pain down the side of his neck.
He was sent to a specialist who found cancer on his tonsil.
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Further tests revealed Steve’s cancer was stage 4 and caused by HPV caught through sexual contact.
Experts say oral sex is stoking an “epidemic” of throat cancer, which is now more common than cervical cancer in the US and the UK.
According to research, people with six or more lifetime oral sex partners are 8.5 times more likely to develop oropharyngeal cancer than those who do not practise oral sex.
Steve is now campaigning to raise awareness of HPV and is now in the process of creating a film about his cancer journey.
Speaking to Insider, he said had has received judgement from people over his diagnosis – he was once told he “should have kept it in his trousers.”
But Steve, who’s been married for 30 years said he’s not been “over promiscuous”.
Despite the negativity and stigma he is not ashamed of his diagnosis, he told i news.
“There aren’t very many men of my age who are prepared to talk about it, but I’ve always been very open and honest.” he explained.
After two rounds of chemotherapy and a round of radiotherapy and was told he was cancer-free in 2021.
He is now working with the Throat Cancer Foundation, where he is an ambassador, in the hope of seeing HPV cancer eradicated.
In the UK, girls are offered their first HPV jab dose in Year 8, and their second one up to two years later.
Boys were also added into the programme in 2019, in the hope that HPV-related cancer cases would fall dramatically in the future.
But recent government figures showed that HPV vaccine coverage decreased by 7 per cent in Year 8 girls and 8.7 per cent in year 8 boys in 2021 to 2022, when compared to the previous academic year.
If a school child misses their doses, you can speak to the school jab team or GP surgery to book as soon as possible.
What are the signs of oropharyngeal cancer?
Around 70 per cent of oropharyngeal cancers in the UK are linked to HPV, according to Cancer Research UK – around 8,500 new cases of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer are diagnosed each year.
The increase of HPV positive oropharyngeal cancer has been seen in younger people aged between 40 and 50 years, who do not smoke, the charity added.
But it noted: “We know that oropharyngeal cancers containing HPV tend to do better than cancers that don’t contain HPV.”
Symptoms of mouth and oropharyngeal cancer include:
- ulcers that don’t heal
- pain in your mouth
- red or white patches in your mouth or throat
- difficulty swallowing
- speech problems
- a lump in your neck
- weight loss
- bad breath
Many common conditions can cause these symptoms, but it’s important to get them checked by a doctor or dentist, Cancer Research UK noted.
Aside from the HPV virus, activities like smoking, drinking alcohol and chewing tobacco can also increase someone’s risk of developing mouth and oropharyngeal cancer, Cancer Research UK said.
Not eating enough fruit and vegetables can have the same effect.
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