Anal Cancer: What You Need To Know

Anal cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer that forms in the anal canal. Diagnosis is usually made with a biopsy. Most cases do not require surgery, but there are several treatments available. Let’s look at what you need to know about anal cancer.

The Causes And Risk Factors Of Anal Cancer

Anal cancer is closely associated with the HPV virus, a sexually transmitted infection known as human papillomavirus. It is thought to be the most common cause of anal cancer.

In addition to the HPV virus other risk factors include the following:

  • Having multiple sexual partners over your lifetime
  • Having had receptive anal sexual intercourse
  • Having a history of cancer like cervical, vaginal, or vulvar cancer
  • Smoking
  • Taking immunosuppressive drugs for conditions like an organ transplant

The only ways to reduce your risk of developing anal cancer is to practice safe sex, and get vaccinated for the HPV virus. The injections are normally given to young people but can also be given to adults. Stopping smoking is another way to reduce your risk.

anal cancer diagnosis on tablet with stethoscope next to it

Symptoms And Diagnosis Of Anal Cancer

Sometimes anal cancer has no symptoms at all. It’s possible you can have changes in your stool, itching, and a lump or pain at the anus. Your physician may start with a rectal exam.

If there is continued suspicion you may have anal cancer, a number of tests will be performed. This can include an Anoscopy, where a small hollow tube is inserted into the anus. A light on the end will look for tissue to be sent to a lab. You are awake during this test, but feel no pain.

An Endoscopy is a test where a flexible tube with a video camera is inserted into the anus. Much longer than the anoscope, this test can remove cells for biopsy.

A PET scan shows signs of “hot spots’ indicating cancer elsewhere in the body.

Other tests to determine anal cancer include ultrasound, CAT scan, MRI, and a chest X-ray may be done to be sure cancer has not metastasized to the lungs.

Possible Treatments For Anal Cancer

Once the cancer is found and staged, you will be advised of your treatment options. The main goal is to save your anal sphincter muscles so you will be able to control your bowels and stool.

Treatment depends on the location, stage, and type of tumor. Common treatment today consists of combining two or more types like radiation and chemo.

Surgery is often not needed.

Contact Colorectal Surgical Associates at (816) 941-0800 with additional questions if you have been diagnosed with anal cancer.