Anal cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the anus, which is the opening at the end of the rectum where stool leaves the body. Anal cancer is uncommon and is often curable. Like other cancers, it can metastasize to other parts of the body, commonly the liver and lungs, although spreading is rare.
Anal cancer forms when a genetic mutation turns healthy cells into abnormal cells that grow and multiply out of control. Anal cancer is closely related to a sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV), which is often shown to be the cause. Other risk factors that increase likelihood include:
- Multiple sex partners
- Receiving anal intercourse
- Smoking cigarettes
- History of cancer
- Drugs/conditions suppressing immune system
- Older age
Symptoms of anal cancer include bleeding from the anus, itching or discharge from the anus, a lump near the anus, or redness/swelling/pain in the anal area.
Our physician will examine the anus and rectum. A digital rectal exam is often done during which the doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum while pressing with the other hand on the lower abdomen. If anal cancer is suspected, further tests such as a skin biopsy, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy may be performed. To determine if the cancer has spread, the following tests may be performed as well – CT scan, chest X-ray, MRI, PET scan, transrectal ultrasound.
Treatment is based on the patient’s overall health and the stage of the cancer. Options include:
- Radiation Therapy – Using high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.
- Chemotherapy – Medicines used to kill fast-growing cells, including cancer cells and some normal cells. Chemotherapy may be given together with radiation.
- Surgery – Surgical resection is done when radiation and chemotherapy do not result in complete regression of the tumor or there is recurrent disease.