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Photo by: Stephen Vaughan, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Val,” a new documentary profiling the life of actor Val Kilmer is set to debut on Amazon Prime Friday. Part of the film’s focus is on Kilmer’s battle with throat cancer. The actor was originally diagnosed in 2015, undergoing a tracheotomy shortly after. Kilmer can be seen speaking with a voice box in the film’s trailer.

In a recent interview, Kilmer’s children provided a positive update on their father’s recovery.

“He’s doing really well, Jack Kilmer said at the film’s premiere. "It's very emotional for him to watch it and we wish he could be here but, you know, he's here in spirit and he's just so proud of this and that people get to see a side of him that has never been seen before.”

Kilmer is one of many high profile personalities to speak publicly about their throat cancer diagnosis. Megadeth lead singer Dave Mustaine and Dog the Bounty Hunter’s wife Beth Chapman each made the news in recent years for their battles. Mustaine’s doctors have since given him the “all-clear,” while Chapman unfortunately passed away in 2019.

Although their cases haven’t been publicly linked to human papillomavirus (HPV), experts say HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers—which include cancer of the tonsils, base of tongue and throat—are on the rise.

Actor Michael Douglas and actress Marcia Cross’ husband have both been public about how HPV caused their own battles with throat cancer.

Dr. Caitlin McMullen

Dr. Caitlin McMullen, head and neck surgeon

“The incidence of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma related to HPV has been increasing in North America and other developed countries since the 1970’s,” said Dr. Caitlin McMullen, a surgeon in Moffitt’s Head and Neck Oncology Program. “We see this type of cancer almost every day at Moffitt. Traditionally, oropharyngeal cancers were caused most often by smoking, but now more than 70% of these cancers are related to HPV.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimates there are about 3,500 new cases of HPV-related oropharyngeal cancers diagnosed in women and about 16,200 diagnosed in men each year in the United States. Fortunately, HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer has a better prognosis than smoking-related oropharyngeal cancer. There is also an HPV vaccine that can help prevent this cancer.

Signs and symptoms of throat cancer can include:

  • Swallowing difficulties (dysphagia)
  • A feeling that food has become lodged in the throat
  • Hoarseness and other vocal changes
  • Persistent sore throat
  • A mouth sore that bleeds easily or does not heal within a few days
  • A red or white patch on the gums, tongue or cheek lining
  • Mouth or tongue numbness
  • Chronic nasal congestion
  • Ear pain