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Anal Cancer

About Anal Cancer

Anal cancer involves cancer of the end of the digestive tract. It can involve the lower aspect of the rectum, the anal canal, or the skin surrounding the anus. Anal cancer is often related to a virus that
Although anal cancer rarely shows any symptoms during its early stages, there are warning signs. These signs can often be seen in other benign conditions but should warrant further investigation:

  • blood in the stool
  • recurring anal discomfort such as pain, burning, or itching
  • unexplained weight loss
  • mass, ulcer, or other peri-anal pathology

Factors that may increase the risk of anal cancer:

  • infection with human papilloma virus (a type of virus that lives in the skin of the genital regions)
  • HIV
  • inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease (or other chronic inflammatory states)
  • individuals who participate in anoreceptive intercourse
  • pelvic radiation

Screening and Diagnosis

The diagnosis and evaluation of anal cancer requires evaluation and biopsy by a specialized physician. Biopsy involves removal of a piece of tissue for examination under the microscope. This allows your doctor to make a diagnosis and direct future therapy.

Staging Tests

Anal cancer staging tests estimate how advanced the tumor is. It is based on size and involvement of various lymph nodes throughout the pelvis and groin areas.

Treatment for Anal Cancer

Most anal cancers today do not require surgery. They are instead treated with chemotherapy and radiation. Almost all tumors smaller than 4 centimeters (about 2 inches) in size respond completely to this approach and do not require additional therapy. Surgery is reserved for tumors that do not go away with chemotherapy and radiation, those that recur following appropriate treatment, or for the development of problems such as incontinence following non-surgical therapy. It is important to get routine checkups following treatment for anal cancer as any recurrence may be amenable to additional treatment options.

For more information, visit the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons website:


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