'I just didn't think there was a chance in hell I could have cancer'

'I just didn't think there was a chance in hell I could have cancer'
SEATTLE -- Cancer linked to the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus used to be seen as a disease of women. But now it's targeting an alarming number of men.

HPV can cause cervical cancer, but Issaquah resident Dane Burns had no idea HPV could trigger oral cancer in men until he got it.

"The first time I heard of HPV, I didn't care about it, didn't think anything about it. Woman's problem, right? Uterine cancer," said Burns.

Burns' cancer first surfaced in the form of small bumps.

"I had what I thought were two mosquito bites, side by side," he said.

But those bumps on his neck turned out to be stage four throat cancer caused by human papillomavirus.

Doctors believe men get HPV from women through oral sex or other forms of close sexual contact.

"There is a latency. Most who get the cancer contracted the virus sometime in their teens or early 20s," said Dr. Tanya Wahl, oncologist at Issaquah's Swedish Medical Institute.

Burns is a non-smoker and healthy. He's spent the last 30 years climbing the world's most technical peaks, rock faces and ice walls.
When he got the diagnosis, he ran.

"I just didn't think there was a chance in hell I could have cancer. I didn't," said Burns. "Inside, I kept saying, 'It's not me. It's not me. It's not me.'"

Denial sent Burns right back to his comfort zone -- the mountains. He did the hardest rock climb of his life, then headed to Colorado for another epic climb. But when he got there, he realized cancer is like climbing.

"You always take a climb serious, always, always, always. Because if you don't, you won't come home," Burns said.

Burns headed home to face his cancer.

"It's just reality," he said. "All of the sudden, you go, 'Whoa, you're a long ways from home.'"

Five days a week for seven weeks, he endured torture as he received chemotherapy treatments. A mesh mask locked him in place so he would not move, and a plastic Popsicle held his tongue in place, gagging him in the process. It was all so blasts of radiation can precisely target the remaining cancer cells.

Surgeons removed Burns' lump. He now gets pumped with nauseating chemo-cocktails. Eventually, he'll have to rely on a feeding tube. He could lose his balance and some hearing.

"It's hard not to cry," he said. "What do I worry about? It's...oh man, take a list."

Burns is worried about himself and your kids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already recommends the HPV vaccine Gardasil for girls. And just this week, a CDC advisory committee recommended that all boys 11 and older should be vaccinated as well.

"Get the shot. Get tested. Get the shot. Have your kids do it. It's a no-brainer," said Burns.

ABC's Dr. Richard Besser vaccinated both of his sons.

"It doesn't mean you're condoning sex at an early age. What it's saying is you want to do all you can to protect your children as they grow into healthy adults," he said.

Besser says in the early 80s, only 16 percent of oral cancers were HPV-positive. Today, 70 percent of oral cancers are HPV-related.

"It's a no-brainer," Burns said. "It's like measles, polio, mumps. It's a virus-caused cancer that we can eradicate if we just do it."

Eighty percent of all women will have HPV at some point in their lives. For most, it is harmless.

Even though the CDC encouraged the HPV vaccine for girls long before it recommended it for boys, some parents worry it will lead to promiscuous behavior. Less than 50 percent of girls have been given the vaccine.