Island author shows connection between sexual revolution and throat cancer epidemic

Comox Valley’s John Kuby writes about the HPV virus in men and beating an “ugly, ugly” disease

When John Kuby, a 68-year-old Comox snowboarder and mountain biker, was diagnosed with tongue cancer three years ago, he had no idea his body had been carrying a viral infection. One that he got from a sexual partner, probably in his 20s.

The cancer-causing human papilloma virus (HPV) is transmitted sexually.

Since the 1960s, men and women have been having more sexual partners. The pill made it safer to have sex. However, oral sex is not safe when it comes to HPV because the virus is hosted in the cavities of the mouth as well as the genital areas. Hence, we are now experiencing a proliferation of HPV cancers. Kuby is one of the many men of the boomer generation being hit with this.

It is relatively well-known that HPV causes cervical cancer in women. That is why girls are vaccinated in Grade 6. What is not well known is that men also have the HPV virus in them. If it manifests as cancer, it is most often oropharyngeal (tongue or throat) cancer, usually in men Kuby’s age.

Now that the medical community is aware of the connection of HPV to tongue cancer, boys are also being vaccinated in Grade 6, before they become sexually active.

Most people contract HPV viruses during sex, but in most cases, the body’s natural defences take care of any infections within a year or two without any symptoms. But some of the infections lie dormant and manifest as cancers years later.

HPV can cause four other types of cancers: anal, penal, vulvar and vaginal cancer make up 30 per cent of all HPV cancers. Cervical cancer comprises 35 per cent, and oropharyngeal cancer 35 per cent. Fortunately, vaccines prevent each of these, as well as the HPV-caused genital warts.

Unfortunately, most of us have not had the vaccine. Head and neck cancer are the sixth most prevalent cancer worldwide, and HPV-related cancers are the fastest growing sexually transmitted disease.

For young people, the HPV vaccination is effective up to age 26. If you have not been vaccinated, visit your local community health centre and ask for your shots. You will need three of them and there may be a cost.

For older people, there is a mini-epidemic of tongue and throat cancers in men of the baby boomer generation.

As Kuby shows in his cancer experience book — No Quit in Me: My wild ride with tongue cancer — this is an ugly, ugly cancer.

In the year he spent recovering from cancer and radiation/chemotherapy treatment, Kuby endured a steady barrage of challenges: throat pains, burning inside and outside his throat, mouth sores, thrush, swallowing problem, random burning sensations, constipation, vomiting, choking, facial disfiguration, turkey neck, mucus management issues, dry mouth, sleep deprivation and fear. For a month he was not able to speak, and for five months was fed through a tube. He was exhausted, weak and gaunt. He survived it all, only to be left with memory loss, brain fog and depression.

No one wants to go through all that. But, Kuby’s sense of humour, openness to experience and appreciation for all the help from his caregivers makes the story of getting back to snowboarding and mountain biking an inspirational adventure.

Laughing Oyster Bookshop is hosting the launch of Kuby’s book at the Courtenay library, from 6:30-8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21. He will read, talk about his adventures with tongue cancer, and sign books.

Visit the book’s website at

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