What is anal cancer?
Anal cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the short tube at the end of the rectum through which stool leaves the body.
What causes anal cancer?
Cancer forms when healthy cells turn abnormal. Unlike healthy cells, which grow, multiply and die at a set time, abnormal cells multiply out of control and don’t die. The abnormal cells create a mass, or a tumor, and can spread to nearby tissue or elsewhere in the body. When abnormal cells invade other parts of the body, the cancer is said to have metastasized.
Anal cancer is related to a sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is thought to be the most common cause of anal cancers given that evidence of HPV is detected in the majority of anal cancers.
Who is at risk for anal cancer?
Risk factors for anal cancer include:
- Age: Most anal cancer cases occur in people 50 years old and older.
- Several sexual partners: People who have many sexual partners are at greater risk of anal cancer.
- Anal sex: Engaging in anal sex increases risk of anal cancer.
- Smoking: Cigarettes might increase risk of anal cancer.
- Cancer history: People who have had other cancers near the anus — such as cervical, vulvar or vaginal cancer — have a higher risk of anal cancer.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that can also cause genital warts, increases risk of several cancers, including anal cancer.
- Immunosuppressant drugs or conditions: Those who take drugs to suppress their immune system might be at higher risk for anal cancer. HIV, which is the virus that causes AIDS, suppresses the immune system and increases anal cancer risk.
What are the symptoms of anal cancer?
Symptoms can include rectal bleeding, anal pain or itching, or a mass or growth in the anal canal.
How is anal cancer diagnosed?
Various tests and procedures can be used to diagnose anal cancer:
- Examining your anal canal and rectum for abnormalities
- Inspecting your anal canal and rectum
- Taking an ultrasound of your anal canal
- Removing a sample of tissue for laboratory testing
How is anal cancer treated?
Most people with anal cancer are treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.1
Columbia Surgical Associates has a special emphasis in the treatment of anal cancer, and surgeons offer patients multi-disciplinary care. Our providers can offer in-office transrectal ultrasound studies to facilitate and expedite initial evaluation, and we coordinate patient care with medical and radiation oncology colleagues.
What are the possible complications of anal cancer?
Anal cancer rarely metastasizes, but when it does, those tumors are difficult to treat. When it metastasizes, anal cancer most commonly spreads to the liver and lungs.
Untreated anal cancer can be life-threating. The majority of patients with anal cancer who receive treatment will be cured.
- Anal cancer: Symptoms & causes. (2019). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anal-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20354140
- Anal cancer: Diagnosis & treatment. (2019). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anal-cancer/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354146