LOS ANGELES — Michael Douglas said on Tuesday he felt optimistic about recovering from throat cancer but drew gasps when he told a television audience he had the most advanced stage.

The 65-year-old “Wall Street” actor told talk-show host David Letterman that a biopsy indicated that his cancer was at stage 4, which he described as “intense, and so they’ve got to go at it …”

Letterman asked whether stage 4 was a good diagnosis. “Um no,” Douglas replied, according to a transcript provided by CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman.” “You like to be down at stage one … but it has not — the big thing you’re always worried about is it spreading.”

Stage 4 cancer has spread far beyond the original tumor and is usually impossible to cure.

According to the National Cancer Institute website, there were more than 25,000 new cases of throat cancer in the United States in 2010, and approximately 6,000 deaths.

Douglas is in the prime age range for a high risk of throat cancer.

Dr. Lawrence Tena, attending physician in the department of radiation and oncology at Beth Israel Comprehensive Cancer Center in New York City, told several news channels that the good news is that the majority of throat cancers are localized in the body.

“Localized means the cancer has not spread below the clavicle. The body has the ability to keep cancers above the clavicle; it is just the nature of the immune system and lymphatic system. If it is local, it is curable,” he said. “Sixty to 70 percent of patients, even with advanced cancers, survive.”

As one of the most famous “cool guy” icons in Hollywood, Douglas has long been known to be a heavy smoker and drinker, which are high risk factors for throat cancer. Tena, who has not treated Douglas, said that most head and neck cancers are due to the combination of smoking and drinking.

“You’ve never looked better to me, and this proves that you’re a tough guy, for God’s sakes,” Letterman said. “Let’s just say … I’m pretty lit up right now,” Douglas replied.

According to the National Cancer Institute, patients with stage 4 head and neck cancer usually undergo surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Info gathered from Today site, Fox news and CNN.