Anal Cancer

What is anal cancer?

Anal cancer, also known as cancer of the anus, is a rare form of cancer – it is believed that around 930 cases of anal cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year. The anus is the muscular portion at the end of the bowel, which opens and closes to manage bowel activities. There are different types of anal cancer but the main form is squamous cell sarcinoma. Anal cancer is more prevalent in females than males.

What causes anal cancer?

  • Exposure to HPV (human papilloma virus) – your risk of being infected with HPV rises with the quantity of your sexual partners
  • Sexual activity – individuals who have regular anal sex have a greater chance of developing anal cancer because there is a greater chance of exposure to anal HPV
  • Smoking
  • Hampered immune system

Symptoms of anal cancer

  • Bleeding from the anus
  • Minute lumps in the region of the anus (these may look like piles)
  • Pain around the anus
  • Itching around the anus
  • Ulcers around the anus (these may extend to the buttocks)
  • Discharge of mucus from the anus
  • Problems controlling bowel movements
  • A single lump or lumps in the groin

How is anal cancer diagnosed?

If you acquire any of the symptoms listed above it is advisable to see your GP as soon as possible. Your GP will ask you questions about your symptoms and perform an examination, after which they will transfer you to a gastroenterologist specialist for further tests. At the hospital your doctor will examine you and carry out blood tests. They will also use several other tests to reach a concrete diagnosis, including:

  • Rectal examination
  • Biopsy
  • Ultrasound scan
  • X-ray (this is to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body)
  • CT or MRI scan

How is anal cancer treated?

Once a diagnosis has been reached a treatment plan will be drawn up and you will be taken care of by a multi-disciplinary team. You may also be required to visit another hospital for specialist care. Treatment usually involves a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, with the possibility of surgery to remove small tumours in the anus.

What is the outlook for people with anal cancer?

The outlook depends on the stage of cancer and if it has been diagnosed and treated early enough – if so, survival rates are much higher. However, if cancer has spread to other parts of the body survival rates are lower. Around 60 percent of men and 70 percent of women will live for at least five years after diagnosis.

Living with anal cancer

The treatment period can be exhausting and it may be difficult to come to terms with the fact that you have cancer. However, your care team are there to support you and take care of your medical health. There are also several charities in the UK who offer advice and support for people living with anal cancer.

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