Abnormal Growth of Cells

The anus is the opening at the end of the digestive tract through which solid waste leaves the body. Anal cancer is the result of uncontrollable, abnormal growth of the cells that line the anus. 

Anal cancer represents 2.5 percent of all digestive system cancers in the United States. About 8,200 new cases are diagnosed every year. 

Anal cancer treatment depends on the stage of the disease. In its early stages, anal cancer is usually contained to the anal canal and can be removed by surgery. 

Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy and radiation therapy depending on the location of your tumor and if it has spread to the lymph nodes. If the tumor cannot be surgically removed, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be recommended. 

Late stages of the anal cancer with distant spread is usually treated with systemic therapy like chemotherapy.

Anal Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis

The anus is the opening at the end of the digestive tract through which solid waste leaves the body. Anal cancer is the result of uncontrollable, abnormal growth of the cells that line the anus. 

Symptoms

The symptoms of anal cancer include:

  • A growth in the anus
  • Bleeding
  • Changes in frequency or type of bowel movements 
  • Itching
  • Pain

Some people with anal cancer have no symptoms at all.

Diagnosis

The following exams can diagnose anal cancer: 

  • Anoscopy, where your doctor inserts a thin tube called an anoscope into the anus to look for abnormalities.
  • Digital rectal exam, where your doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to check for abnormalities.

If your doctor finds a tumor, he or she will take a small tissue sample (a biopsy) to test for cancer.

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Prevention and Screening

Since the cause of anal cancer is unknown, it is not possible to completely prevent it. However, there are steps you can take to lower your risk. These include:

  • Practice safe sex. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection increases your risk of anal cancer, and HPV can be spread by sexual contact. Condoms can provide some protection, but will not prevent HPV completely. Consider getting tested for sexually transmitted illnesses with your partner. 
  • Get vaccinated for HPV. HPV vaccination can prevent the infection, but will not treat existing HPV.  
  • Receive treatment if you have HIV. Medicine can keep HIV under control. This reduces the risk of a type of anal pre-cancer and long-term HPV infection.  
  • Quit smoking if you smoke. Smoking can increase your risk of many types of cancer, including anal cancer. 

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