What is Anal Cancer?
The Anus is situated at the lower end of the body’s intestines. The Anus itself is about an inch and a half long and its role it to link the lower part of the large intestine to the outside of the body. During Bowel movement it opens to allow the exit of stool (faeces). The Anus is lined with cells that are similar to the cells that line the bladder, urethra, vagina and other places in the body. These Cells are called sqaumous cells
There are a number of tumours that can grow in the anus. However not all of these tumours are cancerous – some of them are benign. (Which means they are not cancer). Some growths can start off as being benign but over time can develop into cancer. These are referred to as pre-cancerous conditions. These potentially pre-cancerous conditions are often referred to as Dysplasia.
Anal Cancer Prevention
There is currently no current way to completely prevent this disease, as some people with anal cancer have no known risk factors. However risk can be greatly reduced by avoiding HIV or HPV infection. There is a higher risk of contracting these infections for those who have unprotected anal sex and sex with many different partners.
- To those who are infected with HIV, the risk of anal pre-cancer and HPV infection can be lowered by the use of a highly active antiretroviral treatment (also referred to as HAART).
Smokers also have an increased risk of anal cancer so stopping smoking can decrease the risk of not only anal cancer but many others cancers too.
How is Anal Cancer Found and Diagnosed?
Anal Cancer can be found early on in many cases. This type of cancer forms in a part of the body easily accessible to a doctor, however some anal cancers do not produce any symptoms at all. It is still believed that a rectal exam will still find cases early on though. This exam consists of a doctor using a gloved finger to examine the anus to feel for lumps or any growths. Whilst a rectal examination may be used to look for prostate cancer in men, for woman this exam is carried out as part of the pelvis exam. If you believe you’re at higher risk of anal cancer, speak to your doctor about whether you should have this exam or other tests more often.
The Signs and symptoms of Anal Cancer
Though some cases of anal cancer have no symptoms, people who do have symptoms of anal cancer may experience some of the following;
- Pain in the anal area
- Bleeding or itching around the Anus
- Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin area
- Abnormal discharge from the anus
- Change in the width of the stool ( May be narrower than usually)
To find out if an abnormal growth is cancerous, a biopsy must be undertaken. The process of a biopsy consists of a doctor taking a sample of the tissue and sending it to a lab to be examined under a microscope.
How is anal Cancer Treated?
For all the stages of anal cancer there are treatments. The treatment you receive will depend on many things. The stage, type and location of the tumour are very important. Also Age, personal health and wishes are taken into consideration.
The 3 Main treatments for anal cancer are as follows
Sometimes the best approach is to combine 2 of more of these treatments. The main aim of treatment will commonly be to cure the cancer. However if that is not possible another aim may be to keep the tumour from spreading or to keep it from returning for as long as possible. A further aim of treatment may be to just relieve some of the symptoms such as general anal pain or bleeding. An integral part of the treatment is to try and defeat the cancer without impacting the control of your bowel movements.