Anal cancer is one cancer that no one likes to talk about perhaps because of embarrassment and that it carries the social stigma of promiscuity. As a result of this potential embarrassment, anal cancer sometimes escapes public awareness. People go to the doctor and inadvertently end up avoiding conversations that can help care for people with this terrible disease.
Farrah Fawcett’s battle with anal cancer helped to bring this rare malignancy into the public eye, as many people with this type of cancer had difficulties discussing this problem.
The anus is where the bowel movement leaves the body when you go to the bathroom. The anus is located at the end of the large intestine (colon) followed by the rectum then the stool coming out the anus.
Anal cancer is not the same as colon cancer or rectal cancer, however anal cancer is on the rise even though it is much less common than colon or rectal cancer. For example, according to the American Cancer Society:
96,830 (+/-) = projected 2014 new cases of Colon Cancer
40,000 (+/-) = projected 2014 new cases of Rectal Cancer
2,500 (+/-) = projected 2014 new cases of Anal Cancer
Last year the National Cancer Institute predicted 7,060 diagnosed cases in the United States alone. This is a significant rise from 2011 when 3,680 women and 2,140 men in the U.S. were affected. It is even affecting more people around the world every year. The incident rates over the past 30 years have risen 78% in women and 160% in males, probably because of multiple sexual partners and people having more anal sex.
Fortunately, half of all anal cancers are diagnosed before the malignancy has spread beyond the anus. 25% of this disease is diagnosed after it has spread into the lymph nodes, and about 10% is diagnosed after the cancer has spread and metastisized to other organs. The prognosis of the anal cancer is dependent on size, location, stage of the tumor, and if it has spread to the lymph nodes or to other organs.
When anal cancer is found early, it can be treated successfully. The 5-year survival rate for anal cancer is 60% for males and 70% in females.
Who is at risk?
1) It is mostly found in people between the ages of 50-80. Before age 50, anal cancer is found mostly in males. After the age of 50, it is found mostly in women.
2) Anal sex is strongly related to the development of the anal infection of HPV (the Human Papilloma Virus), resulting in genital warts, which is a major risk factor and is considered a sexually transmitted disease.
3) Having multiple sexual partners increases your risk.
4) Having unprotected sex increases becoming infected with HPV, and potentially developing anal cancer.
5) Smoking can inhibit the immune system.
6) Immune compromised patients are at risk. (cancer, elderly, chronic illness, those with HPV)
7) Frequent and chronic local anal irritation such as anal fistulas.
8) Pelvic radiation for rectal, prostate, bladder or cervical cancers.
Here are some signs and symptoms of anal cancer:
1) Anal bleeding (most common and often attributed to hemorrhoids)
2) Anal pain
3) Anal pressure
4) Anal itching (most people attribute this to hemorrhoids)
5) Discharge from anus
6) Lump or sore near anus
7) Change in bowel habits (narrow stools)
8) Swollen lymph nodes in your groin
Anal cancer can easily be diagnosed during a routine annual exam by typically taking a detailed history of your problem and a physical exam. Usually it can be detected with a visual examination and a routine digital exam. There are further exams such as proctoscopy, colonoscopy, or endorectal ultrasounds and CT scans.
If a cancer is suspected, a biopsy of the lesion or anal Pap® test can be done.
If there is something to be learned about anal cancer, anyone can become its victim. It does not suggest promiscuity. Remember, the exact cause of anal cancer is unknown, and many unknown heroes and heroines are out there fighting for their lives. We must spread the word of this rare and embarrassing cancer, for embarrassment is one of the main reasons that prevents people from seeking treatment.
The cure stems from early identification and treatment of premalignant lesions and from people in general never assuming that their symptoms were not a problem. Most patients say, “Well I wasn’t worried because I just assumed it was my hemorrhoids that were the problem.”
I thank all those who have had the courage, such as Farrah Fawcett, to come forth to help teach all of us to raise our voices to demand early intervention.
It will take you to become your own best advocate for you and for your family by going to the doctor for yearly exams, which should include pelvic exams, digital rectal exams, using condoms, and stop smoking. Don’t skip those yearly gynecological exams, and for men your prostate exams, and be honest if you are having unprotected anal sex.
I hope in some way this article will enlighten you and help others to never assume that nothing is wrong with them if indeed there is a concern.
- Posted By: DRC Editor
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