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Anal Cancer

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What is anal cancer?

Anal cancer is a tumor that emanates from the cells around the anal opening or inside the anal canal. It has local destructive potential as well as the ability to spread to other locations in the body. Cells with malignant potential that have not invaded deep into the skin or anal mucosa are referred to as "high grade dysplasia", "carcinoma-in-situ" or "Bowen's disease."

What are the symptoms of anal cancer?

Bleeding, pain, itching, a change (narrowing) in stool caliber, mucous discharge from the anus, and swollen lymph nodes in the groin. A biopsy is usually necessary to confirm a diagnosis.

How common is anal cancer?

It represents about 1-2% of gastrointestinal cancers. Incidence is on the rise with about 3500-4500 new cases of anal cancer being diagnosed each year in the U.S. with approximately 500-600 people dying from the disease.

What are the risk factors?

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is usually linked to the condition. It is the same virus that causes warts in the area of the anus and on the cervix in women. Also, people who are older than 50 years of age, people who engage in anal sex, smokers, those who are immunosuppressed and those who have a history of radiation exposure all have an increased risk for developing anal cancer.

Can anal cancer be prevented?

The risk may be reduced by eliminating your risk factors and by getting regular checkups. Anal cancer screening may be performed in high-risk individuals. If you are exposed to any of the risk factors then anal cancer screening should be considered. Screening consists of an anal Pap smear and high resolution anoscopy. An anal pap smear is the same type of test used to screen women for cervical cancer. We do provide these services.

For more information on screening please go to the Anal Cancer Screening section.

What treatment is available?

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy is now considered the treatment of choice although at times it may be necessary to surgically remove a very small lesion.

Will I ever need a colostomy?

If the tumor is non-obstructive and there are no issues with fecal incontinence (inability to control the bowels) secondary to involvement of the sphincters it is very unlikely that you will need a colostomy. If the tumor fails to respond to combination therapy, if it comes back after a regimen of chemoradiation, or if it is a rare type then removal of the rectum and anus resulting in a colostomy may be necessary.

For more information on colostomy please go to the About Ostomy section.