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Anal Cancer

Cancer of the anus or anal canal, which may cause pain and bleeding

  • More common with increasing age
  • More common in males
  • Genetics and lifestyle are not significant factors

Cancer of the anus or the anal canal (the passage from the rectum to outside the body) is very rare. Although the cause is not known, there may be a link between anal cancer and human papillomaviruses, which cause genital warts and are also associated with cancer of the cervix.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of anal cancer usually develop gradually and include:

  • Bleeding from the anus.

  • Itching or discomfort in the anal area.

  • Frequent desire to defecate.

  • A lump in or near the anus.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor to determine the cause. Left untreated, anal cancer may spread to nearby tissues and eventually to other parts of the body.

What might be done?

Your doctor will first examine the anus and then insert a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for lumps. Under local anaesthesia, your doctor may remove a sample of tissue from the anal canal for examination under a microscope.

If anal cancer is diagnosed, you will need further tests to detect whether the cancer has spread. These tests include blood tests and CT scanning or MRI of the abdomen and pelvis.

The usual treatment is chemotherapy with radiotherapy. In about 2 in 3 people, this treatment causes the tumour to shrink so that surgery is not needed. In most people, treatment is curative. However, in rare cases, surgery is necessary to remove the anus and part of the rectum.

If the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body, the outlook is poor. However, surgery in combination with radiotherapy may relieve the symptoms and prolong life.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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