Marcia Cross says her anal cancer may have come from the same strain of HPV that caused her husband's throat cancer. Here's how that's possible.

Michael Kovac/Getty Images for GershMarcia Cross said she decided to publicly share her diagnosis and new HPV information in order to destigmatize anal cancer.
  • During a Wednesday interview on “CBS This Morning,” actress Marcia Cross said her anal cancer and her husband’s throat cancer may both be traced back to the same strain of HPV.
  • HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted infection known to cause cervical cancer, anal cancer, throat cancer, and vaginal cancer, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • HPV is fairly common, with an estimated 14 million Americans infected annually. Most cases resolve on their own with no serious health consequences.
  • Some high-risk strains of HPV typically have no symptoms and most people don’t know they have the STI until it has caused severe health problems like cancer, according to Planned Parenthood.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

A year and a half after being diagnosed with anal cancer, actress Marcia Cross is now speaking up about the potential cause of her illness: the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus, or HPV.

Cross appeared on “CBS This Morning” Wednesday, saying that doctors believe her anal cancer came from the same strain of HPV that caused her husband Tom Mahoney’s throat cancer. Mahoney was diagnosed in 2009 and went into remission after treatment, but his cancer came back around the time Cross was diagnosed with anal cancer, People reported.

“It makes complete sense,” gynecologist Dr. Donnica Moore told INSIDER. “It’s a sexually transmitted infection and presumably people that are married are having sex and sharing bodily fluids.”

Cross said she decided to publicly share her diagnosis and this new HPV information in order to destigmatize anal cancer.

“I know there are people who are ashamed. You have cancer! You have to then also feel ashamed? Like you did something bad, you know, because it took up residence in your anus? I mean, come on, really. There’s enough on your plate,” Cross told CBS News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook.

Only some HPV infections lead to cancer

HPV is fairly common in the United States. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 million Americans including teenagers are infected with HPV every year and an estimated 80 million Americans are currently infected with the STI.

Most people with the infection don’t experience any serious health consequences. In fact, people with low-risk HPV often see the STI go away on its own with no treatment, according to Planned Parenthood, and 9 out of 10 HPV cases resolve themselves in about two years’ time, the CDC website noted.

But each year, 33,700 HPV cases result in some type of cancer – cervical, vaginal, penile, throat, or anal. This can happen if a person is infected with a high-risk strain of HPV because those forms can mutate a person’s cells. According to the World Health Organisation, there are more than 100 known types of HPV and 14 are known to cause cancer.


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The only potential symptom of HPV is genital warts, but most people with the STI don’t show any symptoms, and so can unknowingly spread it to a partner during vaginal, oral, or anal sex. If a high-risk strain is passed, a partner can develop cancer, though HPV-related cancers may take years or decades to develop after a person becomes infected.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Cross got anal cancer from oral sex with her husband, Moore said. “HPV is systemic, so you can catch it from any sexual activity just one time and then get any number of cancers as a result.”

The HPV vaccine is the best way to protect against the infection and cancers it may cause

The only way to fully protect yourself against HPV is to abstain from sex, but since that option isn’t realistic for most people, the next best thing is to get an HPV vaccination.

The vaccine not only prevents over 90% of HPV-related cancers, but also can stop the rampant spread of the STI.

“Vaccination of children prior to sexual activity can potentially eradicate these cancers for future generations,”Dr. Crystal Moore, a board-certified pathologist, previously told INSIDER. “Prevention with vaccination and safe sex practices are the best protection.”

The CDC recommends all children get the HPV vaccine, which requires two separate doses, at 11 or 12 years old.

Often, people believe only women need the HPV vaccine because women are screened annually for cervical cancer, which is often caused by HPV. Plus, there is currently no HPV test for men, according to the CDC. But men can carry HPV too and pass the STI onto their partners, so getting the vaccine can prevent them from becoming infected in the first place.

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