Anal cancer is cancer of the anus. This is the canal at the end of the large intestine, below the rectum. The anal sphincter is a muscular ring that controls and allows for bowel movements.
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Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually, these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body.
There is evidence that human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is linked to many anal cancers. However, most people who have been infected with HPV do not get anal cancer.
Factors that increase your risk of anal cancer include:
Some anal cancers do not have symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A digital rectal exam may also be done.
The rectum and anus may need to be examined. This can be done with:
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your body structures. These may include:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
With chemotherapy, drugs are used to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs travel through the bloodstream to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often combined with radiation therapy. Your doctor will work with you to help minimize common side effects of chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy is often delivered at the same time as chemotherapy. Most anal cancers are treated with the combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. This treatment can avoid the need for surgery.
In some cases, radiation therapy alone may be used if chemotherapy is thought to result in too many side effects. In the treatment of anal cancer, radiation is delivered externally on a daily basis over 5-6 weeks.
Since radiation therapy damages healthy tissue as well as cancer cells, there are certain side effects associated with radiation therapy for the treatment of anal cancer. Scar tissue may form in the anus, keeping the anal sphincter from working properly. In addition, damage may occur that results in chronic rectal bleeding.
Local resection allows for the removal of small cancers that have not spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissues. During this procedure, a small margin of healthy tissue around the cancers will also be removed. This surgery preserves anal function and the need for a permanent colostomy.
An abdominoperineal resection (APR) is a surgery where the anus and rectum are removed by open surgery. This surgery is considered if the cancer cannot be treated or returns after chemotherapy and radiation. This surgery results in the formation of a permanent colostomy. A colostomy is a surgical opening through the wall of the abdomen into the colon. This is used as a path for waste material to leave the body. After a colostomy, you will wear a special bag to collect body waste.
You may be able to reduce your risk of anal cancer by reducing your exposure to HIV and HPV. There is a vaccine available that protects against 4 types of HPV.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Public Health Agency of Canada
Anal cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003083-pdf.pdf. Updated February 25, 2015. Accessed September 6, 2016.
Anal cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 30, 2015. Accessed September 6, 2016.
General information about anal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/anal/patient/anal-treatment-pdq. Updated July 7, 2016. Accessed September 6, 2016.
Joura EA, Leodolter S, Hernandez-Avila M, et al. Efficacy of a quadrivalent prophylactic human papillomavirus (types 6, 11, 16, and 18) L1 virus-like-particle vaccine against high-grade vulval and vaginal lesions: a combined analysis of three randomised clinical trials. Lancet. 2007; 369(9574):1693-1702.
Uronis HE, Bendell JC. Anal cancer: an overview. Oncologist. 2007;12(5):524-534.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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