For all of us who are fans of Michael Douglas (and count me among them), it's encouraging to hear that his cancer has apparently disappeared. That's all the more remarkable because when Douglas first went public with his illness in August, he said he was already Stage IV. Now, the 66-year-old Oscar winner says his doctors have told him his tumor is gone after months of radiation and chemotherapy.
Every time a celebrity is open about his or her battles with a potentially fatal disease, I think it's a good thing because it raises general awareness. But a good or bad outcome for a particular celebrity doesn't really tell another patient much about how they will fare with the same condition.
That's important to remember because often the details of celebrity diseases are reported as though they were real medical news. In fact, what we are hearing is really only very limited information about a particular person's disease that may or may not apply to someone else's case.
Each patient's prognosis depends on many factors.
In the case of throat cancer, for example, specialists say that the illness has only a 60 percent recovery rate if it's related to smoking or alcohol. Smoking and drinking are both risk factors but if a patient does both, the risk increases even more because they act synergistically. On the other hand, throat cancer related to the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) has an 80 percent survival rate, significantly higher.
The stage at which the cancer is caught makes a huge difference as well. Caught in its early stages, throat cancer patients can have as much as a 90 percent chance of surviving five years.