What Is Anal Cancer

What Is Anal Cancer ? Anal cancer is a malignant growth arising from anus, the posterior opening of the digestive system. Cancer of the anus is different from the more frequently occurring colorectal cancer.

  • Pain and bleeding from the anus, itching in the perianal area are the usual symptoms.
  • Sexually transmitted infections like HPV and anal intercourse are risk factors.
  • Anal cancer is diagnosed by a  physical examination of the anus, and confirmed by biopsy.
  • Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the different treatment options, used singly, or more often, in combination.

Cancer of the anus is distinct from the more frequent colorectal cancers which are generally adenocarcinomas. On the other hand, squamous cell carcinomas are the most frequently occurring type of anal cancer. It usually originates in the skin surrounding the anus, or in the lining of the anal canal between the rectum and the anal opening. Sarcoma, lymphoma, melanoma and adenocarcinoma are some of the very rare forms of anal cancers.

Anal cancer is not as prevalent as colorectal cancer but over four thousand people in the US are diagnosed with the disease every year. The incidence is found to be more in women, almost double that of in men. The exact cause of the cancer of the anus is not known but certain factors are found to make people more prone to developing the disease. Among those who practice anal intercourse, the receptive partner is found to have a greater risk of cancer. Infections which are transmitted sexually, such as lymphogranuloma venerum and human papillomavirus-type 16, also predispose people to this disease.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Pain and bleeding during bowel movements are the usual symptoms of anal cancer. Itching of the skin surrounding the anus also may be a symptom. One fourth of those who have cancer of the anus do not display any symptoms and the disease often goes unnoticed unless it is detected accidentally or by a routine physical examination.

A physical examination of the skin surrounding the anus helps the doctor find abnormalities which may suggest anal cancer. Doctors may be able to feel differences in the texture when the lining of the anal passage and the rectum are examined with a gloved finger. A biopsy may be done so that a portion of the lining may be examined in the laboratory for abnormalities.


Surgical removal of the affected area usually cures the disease. But there is a high risk that the surgery may damage the muscular ring called anal sphincter, which keeps the anus closed except during a bowel movement. If anal sphincter is damaged during surgery, it will result in fecal incontinence. To avoid this situation, sometimes chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or a combination of both, may be considered instead of surgery. But when surgery is combined with either chemotherapy or radiotherapy, it gives the best results. In several cases of anal cancer, complete recovery is possible, and more than 70% of people with anal cancer survive beyond 5 years. Even after the treatment is complete, people should undergo periodic testing for anal cancer. If there are signs of recurrence detected during a routine testing, further surgery may be required.

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Yasser Elnahas

MD, PHD, Professor Of CardioVascular Surgery
Dr. Yasser Elnahas, Is an associate Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery. Dr. Elnahas was trained as a fellow At Texas Heart Institute And Mayo Clinic Foundation.Dr. Elnahas is dedicated to educating the general public about different disease conditions and simplifying the medical knowledge in an easy to understand terminology.

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