Anal Cancer

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Anal cancer facts*

*Anal cancer facts medical author: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

  • Anal cancer is a disease in which cancer develops in the cells of the anus at the lower and external end of the digestive tract.
  • Risk factors for anal cancer include age over 50, human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, many sexual partners, receptive anal sex, chronic immune suppression, cigarette smoking, and chronic anal irritation.
  • The causes for anal cancer are HPV infection with certain types of HPV viruses, a weakened immune system, a history of certain prior pelvic cancers, and cigarette smoking.
  • Symptoms and signs of anal cancer include anal bleeding, pain or pressure in the anal area, lump or mass near the anus, anal discharge, and change in bowel habits.
  • Diagnostic tests include history and physical exam, anoscopy, and likely also deeper endoscopic examinations. Ultimately, a surgical biopsy may be performed.
  • The prognosis of anal cancer is affected by the stage, or extent, of the cancer when it was discovered. Stage is assessed by the results of the diagnostic tests, as well further testing involving CT scan and sometimes PET scan, and other studies.
  • There a five stages of anal cancer ranging from 0 through IV. The higher the number, the more extensive the disease at presentation.
  • Treatment for anal cancer is usually curative. Today the best approach for the majority of patients is a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. The 5-year disease free survival is better when the stage is lower.
  • Surgery for very early disease can be curative. Radical surgery requiring a colostomy is no longer a necessary initial or primary treatment. It may be required if there is residual or recurrent disease after nonsurgical treatment.
  • Stage IV or metastatic anal cancer is generally not curable, but treatment can both prolong survival with and reduce symptoms from the disease.
  • HPV Vaccination may prevent this disease.
  • For further information about anal cancer, call the National Cancer Institute at 1-800-4-CANCER.

Anal anatomy

The anus is the lowest end of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It is the opening through which stool, or fecal matter, normally passes. The anal canal extends from the lower end of the rectum to the skin. This canal is surrounded by muscles forming the internal and external anal sphincters which allow us to control when we defecate, or have a bowel movement. The perianal skin surrounds the anus in the perineal region behind either the vaginal orifice or the scrotum.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/13/2015

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Anal Cancer and HPV

Genital wart: A wart in the moist skin of the genitals or around the anus. Genital warts are due to a human papillomavirus (HPV). The HPVs, including those that cause genital warts, are transmitted through sexual contact. HPV can also be transmitted from mother to baby during childbirth. Most people infected with HPV have no symptoms, but these viruses increase a woman's risk for cancer of the cervix. HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the US. It is also the leading cause of abnormal PAP smears and pre-cancerous changes of the cervix in women. There is no cure for HPV infection, although anti-viral medications can reduce outbreaks and topical preparations can speed healing. Once contracted, the virus can stay with a person for life. Also called condyloma acuminatum, condylomata.