Val Kilmer, who played “Batman” and the author in the one-man show “Citizen Twain,” was revealed this week to have oral cancer — and the news was spread by fellow oral cancer survivor Michael Douglas.
At an event in London, Douglas said that Kilmer is “dealing with exactly what I had,” and that “things don’t look too good for him.”
But Kilmer’s friends maintain that he’s doing well and getting back to work after recovering from the disease.
The more hopeful prognosis likely matters to a lot of people at a time when oral cancer is on the rise in American men. Health insurance claims for the condition jumped 61 percent from 2011 to 2015, according to a report by FAIR Health, an independent nonprofit. The most dramatic increases were seen in throat and tongue cancer, which were three times more common in men as in women during that same period.
Changing sexual habits are now seen as a frequent culprit for oral cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). That’s why health experts are so interested in the success of the HPV vaccine.
The findings in the FAIR Health report were drawn from a database of more than 21 billion privately billed medical and dental claims.
Douglas, who was previously diagnosed with stage 4 oral cancer in 2010 was declared cancer free following treatment in 2011.
Kilmer previously denied he was ill in early 2015, after news circulated that he began bleeding from the throat. Rumors again surfaced in October 2015 that a tumor had been spotted after a visit to the UCLA Medical Center. He had also been seen with a tracheostomy tube, which has since been removed, according to photos posted on social media.
Despite Douglas’ statement, Kilmer continues to promote his new movie, “Cinema Twain” a filmed version of his one act play. While he has not directly addressed Douglas’ comments, he shared a quote from Twain on Facebook.
“The recent news of my death has been greatly exaggerated…” Mark Twain,” he posted. “And his values and spirit live even now! And I’m sure still standing!”
The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 50,000 Americans will be infected with oral cancer this year, with 9,500 dying from the condition. While oral cancer was once linked only to smoking, alcohol use, or a combination of the two, it is now also tied to HPV, which infects cells of the skin and membranes that lines areas such as the mouth, throat, tonsils, rectum and sexual organs. Transmission can occur when these areas come into contact with the virus. HPV is a leading cause of cervical, vaginal and penile cancer.
Kilmer’s representative has not returned requests for comments.