Anal cancer is not very common among Americans. You are probably very familiar with colorectal cancer, but anal cancer is not as familiar. Approximately 7,000 people are diagnosed with anal cancer yearly. Though the numbers are not even comparable to the number of individuals who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer anal cancer is on the rise due to HPV, the human papillomavirus. Just because anal cancer is not common does not mean it’s not a big deal. There are causes as well as risk factors for anal cancer. Anal cancer is treatable, and when caught in its early stages, is curable with a great prognosis.
The anus is pretty much the last structure of the digestive system. The anus is the opening that allows bowel movements to pass outside of the body. It is the end of the large intestine. Anal cancer results when malignant cells form in the anal tissue. Muscles control the anus. The muscles open and close allowing the bowels to either be held in the intestine or released; this cancer does not spread quickly. Most of the time it is diagnosed before it even reaches other tissues in the body. Understanding the symptoms of anal cancer can help you get a quicker diagnosis.
Anal Cancer Symptoms
- Bleeding is a common problem in those with anal cancer. As those cells irritate the tissues in the anus, it will start to bleed. You will notice bleeding more during bowel movements. Due to the location of the anus, you may even find bleeding on your underwear.
- Feeling a lump in or near the anus could also be a sign of cancer. That lump can very likely be a tumor.
- Discharge can occur in the anus. Discharge is especially abnormal and should not be seen coming out of the anal area.
- Itching is another sign of cancer. You may have an itch here or there but persist itching is a problem.
- Change in bowel movements that last over a month should be checked out.
- Consistent diarrhea and/or constipation on a regular basis.
- Pain during bowel movements is not normal. If the pain is not related to constipation but soreness, it could be a result of a tumor in the anus. You should not feel pain and pressure in that area.
Anal Cancer Risk Factors
Anal cancer has many different risk factors. Some risk factors include other chronic diseases. HPV is one disease that puts you at a high risk for anal cancer. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, and when it reaches the anus, it causes the cells to mutate. HIV and genital warts are other sexually transmitted diseases that may lead to anal cancer. Anal sex can also cause anal cancer. Those over the age of 60 are most at risk for anal cancer. It is rare to have someone under the age of 60 get anal cancer unless they have multiple risk factors. Inflammatory diseases of the intestine like Crohn’s disease and Celiac disease can be precursors for anal cancer.
Diagnosing Anal Cancer
Anal cancer is diagnosed through examination. You may go to the doctor because of your symptoms, or you may be going for your annual check up. Whatever the case is, just going to the doctor can save your life. The doctor will start with a rectal exam. If that exam is not enough, they may order an ultrasound or other uncomfortable and invasive procedures. If your doctor finds a growth that looks abnormal, they will remove it and send it for a biopsy. If the growth is benign, you typically will not need any more treatment. If it is malignant, you may need more diagnostic tests to see if the cancer has spread. These other diagnostic tests include abdominal and pelvic scans as well as scans of the lymph nodes in those areas. If all the scans are clear, the prognosis is pretty good. If some of these scans show cancer, it means the cells have already started spreading.
Treatment of Anal Cancer
Treatment for anal cancer includes either radiation or chemotherapy or a mixture of both. Treatment is dependent upon the stage of anal cancer. If its Stage I cancer, the doctor may remove the tumor and if there is no cancer left, you will not need any other treatment. When anal cancer spreads and reaches Stage III and Stage IV, both radiation and chemotherapy may be necessary. Prognosis is not as good once anal cancer spreads, especially once it spreads into the lymph nodes.
This cancer can happen to both men and women, while more common in men. Of all the types of cancer, anal cancer is one of the least common types. When compared to colorectal cancer, anal cancer affects fewer people. Like colorectal cancer, diagnosing cancer sooner than later is the key to a full recovery. If you are experiencing itching, bleeding, or anal pain, speak with a physician. Make sure to get the care and treatment you need as soon as possible.
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