Anal cancer is an uncommon type of cancer that occurs in the anal canal.
Sometimes anal cancer causes no symptoms at all. But bleeding is often the first sign of the disease. The bleeding is usually minor. At first, most people assume the bleeding is caused by hemorrhoids (painful, swollen veins in the anus and rectum that may bleed). They are a benign and fairly common cause of rectal bleeding.
Important symptoms of anal cancer include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Rectal itching
- A lump or mass at the anal opening
- Pain or a feeling of fullness in the anal area
- Narrowing of stool or other changes in bowel movements
- Abnormal discharge from the anus
- Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin areas
Most often these types of symptoms are more likely to be caused by benign (non-cancer) conditions, like hemorrhoids, anal fissures, or anal warts. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to have them checked by a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated if needed.
Several factors have been found to increase the risk of anal cancer, including:
- Older age.Most cases of anal cancer occur in people age 50 and older.
- Many sexual partners.Men and women who have many sexual partners over their lifetimes have a greater risk of anal cancer.
- Anal sex.Men and women who engage in anal sex have an increased risk of anal cancer.
- Smoking cigarettes may increase your risk of anal cancer.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV).HPV infection increases your risk of several cancers, including anal cancer and cervical cancer. HPV infection is a sexually transmitted infection that can also cause genital warts.
- Drugs or conditions that suppress your immune system. People who take drugs to suppress their immune systems (immunosuppressive drugs), including people who have received organ transplants, may have an increased risk of anal cancer. HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — suppresses the immune system and increases the risk of anal cancer.
Anal Cancer Detection in Its Early Stage
If the anal cancer is detected in early stages the chances of successfully overcome cancer are higher. There are a number of procedures that can be done which can detect cancer including:
Endoscopy: is the use of a tube with a lens or tiny video camera on the end to examine an inner part of the body. Several types of endoscopy can be used to look for the cause of anal symptoms. They can also be used to get biopsy samples from inside the anal canal (described below). For these tests you either lie on your side on an examining table, with your knees bent up to your chest, or you bend forward over the table.
Anoscopy: For anoscopy the doctor uses a short, hollow tube (called an anoscope), which is 3 to 4 inches long and about 1 inch in diameter, and may have a light on the end of it. The doctor coats the anoscope with a lubricant and then gently pushes it into the anus and rectum. By shining a light into this tube, the doctor has a clear view of the lining of the lower rectum and anus. This exam is usually not painful.
Digital Rectal Exam: For any abnormalities and lumps a physician examines the anal cavity with their fingers after having put on a lubricated glove during this exam.
PET scans, MRIs, CT scans, x-rays, ultrasounds, and biopsies are procedures which are usually used for detection of anal cancer.