Anal cancer is an uncommon type of cancer that occurs in the anal canal. The anal channel is a short tube at the end of the rectum, through which stool is expelled from the body. Signs of anal cancer may present through symptoms such as rectal bleeding and anal pain.
Signs of anal cancer are often associated with human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus is known to cause warts in the cervix, oral cavity and anus. Infectious diseases transmitted by sexual contact in the anal region increase the risk of cancer between 10 to 30 times.
What are Signs of Anal Cancer?
Anal cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissues of the rectum. Anal cancer usually arises from polyps in the lining of the rectum. Anal cancer symptoms can occur in many ways. However, many anal cancers are detected in routine screenings without any prior symptoms. Symptoms that can be experienced include:
- Pain, soreness, or itching in the anal area
- Abnormal or painful bowel movements
- Rectal bleeding (noticeable in stool or on toilet paper)
- Blisters around the anus
- Tissue discharge from the anus
- Bloating and gas complaints
- Vaginal dryness in women
- Unexpected weight loss
How is Anal Cancer Diagnosed?
During a digital rectal examination (DRE), your doctor will try to feel if there are any abnormalities such as a mass by touching the inside of the rectum with a finger. Your doctor may use a short, lighted tube (anoscope) to examine the rectal canal and rectum for any abnormalities. Alternatively, an ultrasound with the help of a probe head can be used to diagnose anal cancer.
If your doctor detects an abnormal area, they may take a small sample of the affected tissue and send the sample to the lab for analysis. It is decided whether the cells are cancerous or not by viewing the samples under a microscope.
Who is at Risk for Anal Cancer?
It is not known exactly why anal cancer develops. However, some risk factors are known to increase the chances of the development of anal cancer, such as:
- Anal warts
- Chronic local inflammation
- Medications and conditions that suppress the immune system
- Age of 50 or over
- Anal sex
- A high number of sexual partners
- A history of cervical, vulvar, or vaginal cancer
Can Anal Cancer Be Prevented?
Anal cancer can be prevented, or the severity decreased, by regular colonoscopies starting at the age of 45, or earlier if recommended by your physician and based on your family history. Anal cancer can develop from rectal polyps that are benign on the rectal wall. Detection and removal of these polyps by colonoscopy reduces the risk of anal cancer. The most accurate and effective screening test available is a colonoscopy.
In addition to screening controls, there are many scientific studies showing that diet can play a part in the development of anal cancer. The consumption of low-fat foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts that are high in fiber can reduce the risk of developing rectal cancer. Other risk factors to consider include:
- Avoiding anal sexual contact, which can lead to HPV-16 and HIV infections
- Administration of three doses of the HPV-16 vaccine
- Use of condoms during sexual contact reduces the risk of infection