Rikki Rockett spoke to RiseUpEight.org
about his revelation last year that his tongue cancer diagnosis was caused by HPV, the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection. He said: "HPV is a virus that is usually, but not always, sexually transmitted. You can test it in women, but you can't test it in men. So if a man has the HPV virus, he will not know it.
"There are many strains of HPV, and about 10 percent of them can cause cancer. None of those produce a wart which you will usually see in HPV viruses, but the kind that causes cancer can't be seen.
"You can have this virus for 15 years before it shows any damage. It can create a mutation and leave your body and that's the end of it, but then sometimes not. There is a vaccine for young women and I think young men as well. If we can stop HPV, we can stop more than half of oral cancer.
"It used to be that it was just the people that smoked and chewed tobacco that were getting oral cancer, or people that would drink heavily, and there are some of those cases still. But the vast majority these days are from HPV. They can be very healthy people otherwise, so that shocked a lot of doctors in the beginning, but they finally figured out that it was coming from HPV."
He continued: "You can also get penile cancer from this, which is on the rise (no pun intended). But it's a serious thing — really, it is right now — but at this point in time there's really nothing you can do. There is no routine screening for this. And it's really easy to get. They used to think that it was transmitted only by sex, but now they are finding out that it can be transmitted mouth-to-mouth just from kissing.
"The HPV vaccine is important; I'm going to have my kid vaccinated, I promise you that. Everyone is at risk for HPV cancer, and that's a very scary thing to have in your head.
"Most of the time your body can get rid of it. It's still relatively rare for someone to get this and get cancer from it. I was just one of the unlucky ones. But no one is safe. It can be up to 20 years ago that you got HPV and got a mutation."
Rockett added: "I've had three DNA circulating cell tests to determine if I have any mutations, and I don't have any mutations of any kind, which is a great relief. I can't tell you how happy I am to know that. It did show the mutations that I had because I had cancer, and when it went away, the mutations went away and stayed away.
"But this test costs about $5000 each time, and the only way I was able to get it was because I was on a clinical trial, but hopefully they will be able to get the price down to where most people can afford it on a routine physical exam once a year."
Rockett was diagnosed with oral cancer more than a year ago. Several months ago, he came to Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego, where he underwent experimental cancer immunotherapy, which has now eradicated the tumor.
He initially received radiation and chemotherapy, like many cancer patients, but became concerned when the cancer appeared to be returning.