Anal cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the tissues of the anus. The anus is the terminal part of the digestive tract. It is the channel through which the poop passes out of the body from the rectum (the last part of the large bowel) during a bowel movement. Anal cancer is rare when compared to certain other cancers affecting the gut, such as colon cancer and rectal cancer. This cancer generally affects people who are older than 60 years. It is rare in those younger than 35 years. The risk of anal cancer is higher in white women and black men as compared to the rest of the population.
Anal cancer results when the cells in the anus start multiplying uncontrollably because of some sudden mutation in the genes of the affected cells. The human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is most commonly associated with anal cancer. Also, the presence of certain risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, older age, lower immunity, or anal sex, may increase the risk of anal cancer.
What does anal cancer feel like?
Anal cancer may cause no symptoms during its early stages. When symptoms do occur, they could be signs of benign (noncancerous) conditions, such as anal warts or hemorrhoids (painful, swollen veins in the anus, and rectum that may bleed). The earliest symptom of anal cancer is generally bleeding through the anus. The common symptoms of anal cancer include:
- Bleeding from the anus (it may appear as fresh blood during bowel movements or as blood-stained underwear)
- Continuous Itching in the anal region
- A lump or mass in the anal region
- Abnormal anal discharge
- Enlarged or swollen glands in or around the anus or the groin
- Change in bowel habits (such as frequency, size, or difficulty) (For instance, some people may report the need to use the bathroom more often, strain during bowel movements, or have loose stools. Some people may report that their stools have become narrower, some may experience increased straining, or some may use the bathroom more often).
The symptoms may be worsened by bowel movements or sex. Other symptoms associated with cancer, such as reduced appetite, unintended loss of weight, lethargy, and weakness, may also be seen. These symptoms may also be seen in noncancerous conditions affecting the anorectal region. Consult a physician for a definitive diagnosis.
Is anal cancer curable?
Anal cancer can be cured in most patients, especially when cancer got diagnosed early and treatment began in time. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to halt the rising number of deaths due to anal cancer. If experiencing any symptoms of anal cancer, seek urgent medical attention. When ignored, anal cancer can advance to cause serious complications. The treatment of anal cancer largely depends on the type of anal cancer and the extent to which it has spread (determined by the staging of anal cancer). Treatment includes several options, generally used in combination, such as:
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Ryan DP, Willett CG. Clinical Features and Staging of Anal Cancer. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-features-and-staging-of-anal-cancer?search=anal%20cancer&source=search_result&selectedTitle=2~125&usage_type=default&display_rank=2