What is the Anus?
The gastrointestinal tract starts with your mouth and ends with the anus. The anus is the part of your body where your intestine opens to the outside, from which undigested, solid waste matter leaves the body.
What is Anal Cancer?
Anal cancer is a rare condition where some anal cells start growing uncontrollably to form a mass of tissue called a tumour.
Who is at Risk of Developing Anal Cancer?
Although anal cancer can occur in anybody, some have a higher risk of developing it than others. The risk is higher in those who have:
- Infection with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and HIV
- Anal sex
- Multiple sexual partners
- Weak immune system
- Habit of smoking
- Age over 50
Types of Anal Tumours
- Benign tumours: These are non-cancerous tumours in the form of skin tags, polyps and genital warts.
- Precancerous conditions: A benign tumour may develop into malignant cancer after some time.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This is malignant cancer developed from abnormal squamous cells lining the anal canal.
- Bowen’s disease: The abnormal cells are restricted to the anal surface tissues and not found in the deeper layers.
- Basal cell carcinoma: It is a rare type of skin cancer that affects the anus.
- Adenocarcinoma: This is also a rare type of anal cancer affecting the glands that surround the anus.
Signs and Symptoms of Anal Cancer
Some of the symptoms of anal cancer are similar to other gastrointestinal diseases such as haemorrhoids and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Major noticeable signs include:
- Bleeding from the anus or rectum
- A lump near the anus and associated pain or pressure
- Change in bowel habits
- Passing of thin stools
- Itching near or around the anal opening
- Growth of a mass in the anal duct
How is Anal Cancer Diagnosed?
If you are not sure of the causes of any of the above symptoms, it is time to visit your doctor and have a thorough evaluation. Your doctor will review your medical history and order various tests to diagnose anal cancer. Detecting anal cancer at an early stage is important to get the best outcomes of the treatment. Some of the diagnostic tests that are ordered to diagnose anal cancer include:
- Digital examination of the rectum: Your doctor will insert a gloved finger into the anus to feel for lumps or growths.
- Anal Pap smear examination: Your doctor will insert a large cotton swab and collect cells from the anal lining. The cells are then examined under a microscope for abnormalities.
- Biopsy: In case an abnormality is found, your doctor may remove a sample of cells or tissues from the anus and test them for anal cancer.
Treatment for Anal Cancer
There are several treatment options that may be performed individually or in combination. Your doctor will decide on a specific treatment plan depending on your age and the stage of cancer. Following are some treatment options generally recommended by your doctor.
- Chemotherapy: involves the killing of cancer cells using medication and preventing their return.
- Surgery: performed when tumours are small, and the cancer is in the early stage. It involves the removal of anentire tumour in the anus, along with a margin of healthy tissue around it.
- Abdominoperineal (AP) resection: an invasive surgery performed if you have not responded to other treatments or you have late stage cancer. It involves the removal of the anus, rectum,and parts of the sigmoid colon).
- Radiation therapy: the cancer cells are killed by using X-ray or other radiation. This therapy is usually combined with other treatments.
Prognosis of Anal Cancer Treatment
Anal cancer cannot be cured. However, early detection and the appropriate treatment will help you live a healthy and fulfilling life.
Prevention of Anal Cancer
There is no proven method to prevent anal cancer. However, there are some ways to mitigate the risk of developing it including practicing safe sex, ceasing smoking and getting vaccinated for HPV (a series of three doses).