Marcia Cross Links Her Anal Cancer to Husband’s Throat Cancer

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Marcia Cross, the 57-year-old Desperate Housewives Star, not only is talking about the anal cancer that her doctors found a year and a half ago. She's talking about it on national TV and aiming to make a couple of things about that cancer really clear.

On CBS This Morning on Wednesday, she explained how her gynecologist had discovered the anal cancer during a routine visit. Reports say she's in remission now, and isn't interested in being quiet about it.

In that interview, she said, "I know that there are people who are ashamed. You have cancer. Should you then also feel ashamed like you did something bad because it took up residence in your anus?"

It could be linked to her husband's throat cancer

Cross also said that doctors suspect her anal cancer could be linked to the throat cancer her husband, Tom Mahoney, was diagnosed with in 2009 (he's also reportedly in remission from it).

That's not unlikely: One of the top risk factors for anal cancer is the HPV virus. And one of the risk factors for some types of throat cancers is also the HPV virus. There are more than 150 types of these viruses, according to the American Cancer Society, and CNN reports that their doctors suspect both Cross and Mahoney's cancers came from the same type.

HPV can be passed between people through skin-to-skin contact as well as through sex and oral sex. HPV can migrate around, according to the ACS—it might start in the genitals and find its way to the anus. You may know HPV as the virus at the root of genital warts, or as the virus that's a risk factor for cervical cancer in women. Or maybe even you remember it being much-discussed as a potential factor in Michael Douglas' throat cancer, which was diagnosed in 2010, with Douglas attributing the cause to oral sex.

There's a vaccine for HPV now

The HPV vaccine was introduced in 2006. Since then, infections in teen girls in HPV types that cause most HPV cancers and genital warts have dropped 71 percent (so guys' chances of getting the HPV passed along to them drops, too). In young adult women, those infections dropped 61 percent. The vaccine has also been approved for prevention of anal cancers.

Cross says she plans to have their 12-year-old twin daughters vaccinated. The CDC recommends starting the first dose of the two-dose vaccination regimen for both boys and girls between ages 11 and 12 (it can be given as early as age 9). Those who start after age 15 will likely need three doses over six months. If you've missed that window, the CDC recommends getting the vaccine through age 26 for women; 21 for men, although other recommendations say you can get it up through age 45.


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Marty Munson, currently the health director of Men's Health, previously served as deputy editor at Dr Oz The Good Life and director of digital content at Shape.

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