A married father-of-one who had a persistent cold was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer caused by a sexually transmitted infection.
Steve Bergman, now 63 and from the UK, began suffering a string of colds that he could not get rid of in 2015 and had pain down the side of his neck.
Doctors diagnosed the actor with throat cancer after finding a tumor on his right tonsil. It was removed via surgery and he then had chemotherapy before being declared cancer free.
Tests later confirmed the actor’s cancer was caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually-transmitted infection that is behind 70 percent of America’s 25,000 throat cancer cases diagnosed annually.
It was not clear how Mr Bergman, who now lives on the US South Coast, caught the virus, but he said that during his youth he loved to ‘explore’. He said: ‘As a much younger man, I was exploring the world, part of that world was finding a partner.’ It comes after an expert warned that the UK and US could face an ‘epidemic’ of throat cancers caused by HPV.
Steve Bergman, now 63, began suffering a string of colds that he could not get rid of in 2015 and had pain down the side of his neck. He was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer caused by an HPV infection
Mr Bergman had surgery on his throat to remove the cancerous tumor. He then had chemotherapy and radiotherapy before being declared cancer free
HPV can infect someone’s throat via oral sexual contact — such as with the penis or the vagina.
The virus is normally harmless, but sometimes it can persist and cause damaging mutations in cells — leading to cancer.
Health officials say the virus is also behind more than nine in ten cancers of the anus and cervix, 70 percent of those in the vagina, and 60 percent of those in the penis.
Everyone in America aged 11 and 12 is offered a vaccine against HPV to prevent infection and minimize the risk of these cancers. It was offered to girls for the first time in 2006 and boys in 2009.
But being in his 50s, Mr Bergman missed the cut-off date for getting vaccinated.
Mr Bergman said he is a ‘super fit’ runner and cyclist, who always followed a healthy diet and was not a heavy drinker.
But in 2016 just before his 56th birthday, he became ill. He said: ‘I had a string of colds that just seemed to be one following another and I would have sore throats and tiredness.
‘My wife was getting very annoyed with me because when I was eating, food was getting stuck and I’d end up coughing it up.
‘It was only when I went back to my GP, that I mentioned that I’d had a pain down the side of my neck, which I think for him, alarm bells rang.’
This graph shows how the number of new cases of throat cancer has ticked upward in the US since 1999. It is rising by about one percent a year in women and three percent in men
This data shows that in the UK cases of throat cancer have been trending upward, just like in the US
He saw a specialist within a week who put a camera down his nose and found cancer on his right tonsil.
Mr Bergman said the diagnosis left him feeling ‘absolutely numb’ and that when it was revealed he ‘kind-of froze’ and ‘stopped hearing details’.
Within a week he returned for what was meant to be a one-hour biopsy, where a small sample of tissues is removed from the tumor to confirm the cancer diagnosis.
But during the procedure — which ended up being three hours — doctors decided to remove the tumor which was almost blocking his airway.
They also gave him a tracheostomy — where a hole is created at the front of the neck that helps the patient breathe — amid concern the swelling might close off his windpipe.
He then spent a week-and-a-half in hospital recovering from the operation, before proceeding with six weeks of chemotherapy and a period of radiotherapy.
After the chemotherapy doctors also removed his tracheostomy, allowing the hole in his throat to close, which they said was possible because the swelling in his tonsils had subsided.
The treatments worked and he was declared cancer free by 2021.
Tests also revealed that the cancer Mr Bergman had was triggered by an HPV infection.
He had not been vaccinated against HPV because the jab only became available in 2006, after his time as a younger man.
Mr Bergman does not know where he caught HPV, but said that as a younger man, he loved to experiment.
‘As a much younger man, I was exploring the world, part of that world was finding a partner,’ he said.
‘So, I was involved in sex and involved in just generally enjoying life.’
Mr Bergman said he has now been described as something of the ‘poster boy’ for HPV-triggered throat cancers after revealing his experience.
He said that some of the feedback he had received from the public was ‘almost judgmental’ and accused him of being promiscuous.
‘Actually, I do not see it as that,’ he said. ‘I lived a life and I’ve lived a full, positive life, and I have a wife and a child.’
‘Where I am now is I don’t see it as a judgment. I was just really unlucky in the reason why my HPV virus then moved into being cancer.’
Several studies have highlighted that people who have more sexual partners are at higher risk of HPV and, as a result, cancers.
Doctors have recognized HPV as the leading cause of oral cancers, outpacing smoking, alcohol consumption and an unhealthy diet.
This is because the act can lead to an HPV infection at the back of the throat or near the tonsils.
It comes after a doctor warned that the UK and US are facing an ‘epidemic’ of throat cancer caused by oral sex.
Dr Hisham Mehanna, from the UK’s University of Birmingham, said people with multiple sexual partners had an up to nine-fold increased risk of throat cancer.
Dr Mehanna wrote in The Conversation: ‘Over the past two decades, there has been a rapid increase in throat cancer in the west, to the extent that some have called it an epidemic.
‘This has been due to a large rise in a specific type of throat cancer called oropharyngeal cancer.’
Only 54 percent of Americans have come forward for the HPV vaccine, far below the 80 percent figure believed to be needed to stop the virus spreading.