10 Causes and Risk Factors for Anal Cancer

Medically Reviewed on 6/9/2022

10 Risk factors for anal caner

The cause of any cancer in the body is mutation or damage to the cell's DNA.
The cause of any cancer in the body is mutation or damage to the cell’s DNA.

What exactly triggers this change is unknown, but some factors may increase the risk of anal cancer. In several cases, anal cancer develops without the presence of any risk factor.

10 risk factors known to increase the anal cancer risk include

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: It seems to play a crucial role in the development of anal cancer. However, most people with HPV infections do not get anal cancer. HPV makes proteins that work against two suppressor proteins in normal cells. Suppressor proteins usually work to keep the cells growing out of control. Inactivating suppressor proteins may cause the cells to grow out of control.
  • Depressed immunity: Depressed or lowered immunity can lower the body’s capability to fight infections. As a result, viruses such as HPV become active and might trigger the development of anal cancer. Viruses such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and medicines used to prevent rejection in a person with an organ transplant can reduce immunity.
  • Smoking: Apart from lung cancer, smoking can cause anal cancer. Carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) in tobacco smoke can travel from the lungs to the rest of the body, causing other cancers. Smoking also reduces the body’s immunity to ward off HPV infections. Many studies have reported the correlation between smoking and anal cancer.
  • Anal warts: People who have anal or genital warts are more likely to get anal cancer because people who have HPV subtypes that cause anal or genital warts may also have HPV subtypes that cause anal cancer.
  • Having other cancers: Women with a history of cervical, vulvar, or vaginal cancer are at a high risk of anal cancer.
  • Having multiple sex partners: Engaging in sexual activity with multiple partners can increase the risk of HIV and HPV infection. Thus, it also increases the risk of anal cancer. Anal sex can also contribute to the increased risk of anal cancer in men and women. Engaging in anal sex as a receptive partner can double the probability of anal cancer.
  • Having anal fistula: If you have an abnormal opening that goes from the anus to the skin around the anus or another place in the body, then you have a high risk of anal cancer.
  • Gender and race/ethnicity: Anal cancer is widely seen in Caucasian women and African American men.
  • Age: Most anal cancers are diagnosed in people who are 55 years of age or older.
  • Marital status: The incidence of anal cancer is six times higher in single men than in married men.

Having stated the risk factors, people with these risk factors do not necessarily get anal cancer. There are many cases where people without any risk factors have had anal cancer. These risk factors are more likely to elevate the risk of anal cancer.

How to prevent anal cancer

There is no perfect method to prevent anal cancer. However, you can protect yourself by reducing some risk factors

  • Refrain from smoking if you smoke. If you do not smoke, then please do not start.
  • Practice safe sex, especially making sure to use condoms if you engage in anal sex.
  • Get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine at the recommended age and doses. This is especially important in people who indulge in high-risk behaviors.


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Medically Reviewed on 6/9/2022