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Anal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

Anal cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects 1 in 500 people. It is much less common than colon or rectum cancer. According to The American Cancer Society, anal cancer is rare in people younger than 35 and it most commonly affects older adults who are in their 60s.

What Causes Anal Cancer [1]

Anal cancer occurs when a genetic mutation happens in the healthy cells and turns them into abnormal cells that grow and multiply and start forming tumours. The cancer cells then start spreading to nearby tissues in the body.

Types Of Anal Cancer [1]

  • Squamous cell cancer - Most anal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas because they develop from squamous cells, the cells that line the anal canal.
  • Adenocarcinoma - Around 3-9 % of anal cancers are adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinoma develops from the glandular cells in the anus. These cells produce mucous, which aids the stool to pass through the anus smoothly.
  • Cloacogenic carcinoma - It accounts for 25% of all anal cancers.

Symptoms Of Anal Cancer

  • Bleeding from the rectum

Itching around the rectum

Unusual discharge from the anus

Lump near the anus

Narrow stools

Pain or a feeling of fullness around the anus

Swollen lymph nodes in the groin or anal area

Changes in bowel movements

Risk Factors Of Anal Cancer

  • HIV - People with HIV have an increased risk of getting anal cancer.
  • Age - It occurs in older adults who are above 50.
  • Smoking - Smoking excessively leads to the development of anal cancer.
  • HPV (Human papillomavirus) - HPV elevates the risk of several cancers, including anal and cervical cancer.
  • History of cancer - People who have had cervical or vaginal cancer in the past have an increased risk of anal cancer.
  • Sex - Anal cancer is more common in females than in males.
  • Reduced immunity - People who have a low immunity have a higher risk of anal cancer.

Complications Of Anal Cancer

Anal cancer most commonly spreads to the liver and the lungs.

Diagnosis Of Anal Cancer

The doctor will first ask about your medical history, symptoms and then carry out a physical examination. A rectal examination and a biopsy test are done to diagnose anal cancer.

Treatment Of Anal Cancer

The treatment of anal cancer depends on various factors, which include the size of the tumour, the extent of the spread and the stage of cancer.

Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the main treatment options for anal cancer.


Surgical procedures include resection and abdominoperineal resection. In resection, the surgeon removes a small tumour and some surrounding tissues and this is only possible if the cancer hasn't affected the anal sphincter or muscle.

In abdominoperineal resection, the surgeon removes the anus, rectum and a part of the bowel.

Radiation therapy

High energy rays are used to destroy cancerous cells and during this process some healthy cells may get damaged. Radiation therapy has adverse side effects like sore and blisters that tend to develop around the anus.


Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells or prevent them from spreading. Chemotherapy drugs are either given orally or by injection.

Prevention Of Anal Cancer

  • Quit smoking
  • Practice safe sex
  • Get HPV vaccination

Story first published: Saturday, January 11, 2020, 18:30 [IST]
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