Anal Cancer – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is anal cancer?
Anal cancer is cancer that develops in the anus or anal canal. The anus is the opening at the end of your rectum. The rectum is the last part of your large intestine where stool (fecal material) is stored. Stool leaves your body through the anus when you have a bowel movement.
Anal cancer is fairly rare. It spreads slowly and is easy to treat before it spreads.
What causes anal cancer?
What exactly causes anal cancer is not known to doctors and scientists. However, researchers have found a link between anal cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that has been linked to other cancers as well.
There are several types of anal cancers, which can develop in any part of the anus. Where it starts determines the type of cancer it is.
The following are the different types of anal cancers:
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This is the most common type of anal cancer. It starts in cells that line the anal canal and grows into the deeper tissue.
- Cloacogenic Carcinoma: Almost all the rest of anal cancers are tumors that start in cells lining the area between the anus and rectum. Cloacogenic carcinoma looks different than squamous cell cancers, but behaves similarly and is treated the same.
- Adenocarcinoma: This type of anal cancer starts in the anal glands below the anal surface and is often more advanced when it is found.
- Skin Cancer: Some cancers form outside the anus in the perianal area. This area is mainly skin. The tumors here are skin cancers and are treated as skin cancer.
The following are the major risk factors for anal cancer:
- HIV/AIDS infection: Anal cancer is more common among HIV/AIDS positive men who have sex with other men.
- Multiple sexual partners: Having many sexual partners and having anal sex are both major risks. This may be due to the increased risk of HPV and HIV/AIDS infection.
- Smoking: Quitting will reduce your risk of anal cancer.
- Weakened immune system: HIV/AIDS, organ transplants, certain medicines, and other conditions that weaken the immune system increase your risk.
- Age: Most people who have anal cancer are age 50 or older. In rare cases, it is seen in people younger than age 35.
- Gender and race: Anal cancer is more common among women than men in most groups. More African American males get anal cancer than females.
What are the symptoms of anal cancer?
Minor rectal bleeding is one of the first signs of anal cancer. Often, this bleeding is mistakenly thought to be caused by hemorrhoids.
The following are the other early signs and symptoms of anal cancer:
- A lump in or near the anus
- Anal pain
- Discharge from the anus
- Change in bowel habits
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin or anal region
How is anal cancer diagnosed?
Your doctor will review your symptoms, health history, sexual history, and perform a physical exam, including a digital rectal exam. Most of the time, anal cancer is found by a digital rectal exam (DRE) during a routine physical exam.
Your doctor may order the following tests to confirm the diagnosis of anal cancer:
If the diagnosis of anal cancer is confirmed, your doctor will do additional tests. These tests are called “staging” tests. Staging helps determine how much cancer is in your body and whether it has spread. Staging also helps determine the course of treatment.
How is anal cancer treated?
Treatment for anal cancer depends on the location and stage of the cancer, and whether there is HIV/AIDS or other conditions that weaken the immune system.
In most cases, anal cancer that has not spread is treated with a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. High-dose radiation alone can treat the cancer, but the high dosage can cause tissue death and scar tissue. Using chemotherapy with radiation lowers the dose of radiation that is needed.
Surgery is used to remove the tumor for early stage anal cancer (stage 0 to stage II).
For more advanced stages of anal cancer, surgery is used to remove tissue in several areas where the cancer has spread. Sometimes, this may involve removing the anus, the rectum, and part of the colon.
When a part of the colon, anus, and rectum are removed, a colostomy (a surgical procedure) is performed. Through this surgical procedure, the new end of the large intestine is attached to a stoma (an opening in the abdomen). Stools moving through the intestine drain through the stoma into a bag attached to the abdomen.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.