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Anal Cancer: Risk Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Staging and Treatment

Anal Cancer: Risk Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Staging and Treatment
A diagrammatic illustration of Anal Cancer

In anal cancer, the anus tissues of the victim are affected. There are different types of this cancer, such as Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs), Adenocarcinomas, and Skin cancers outside anus. Here are the risk factors, symptoms, vaccination and screening, diagnosis, and the available treatments for anal cancer.

Anal Cancer Risk Factors

The HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is a common virus and approximately 80% of the anal cancers reported are because of this virus. The HPV affects the human body’s surface on different areas. The other possible risk factors include:

  • A weak immune system
  • Anal warts
  • A man having sex with other men
  • Women who had nonstandard cervical screening test result. Or, women who had vagina, vulva, or cervix cancer.
  • Sexual relations with multiple partners and insecure anal sex
  • Being over fifty (50)
  • Smoking

However, it is also possible that people who have this cancer type might not be having any of the above discussed risk factors.

Symptoms

The symptoms of anal cancer are not obvious in the early stages. However, someone who has anal cancer might experience following symptoms:

  • Mucus or blood in the stools or on the toilet paper
  • Pain, itching, or discomfort around anus
  • A feeling of fullness, pain or discomfort in rectum
  • Difficulty in controlling bowels
  • Ulcers around anus
  • A lump around anus edge

It is not necessary that someone who has any of the above symptoms must be having anal cancer. There are a few conditions, such as tears or haemorrhoids in anal fissures (anal canal) that might cause such changes. However, if you find out that the symptoms are continuing, you should get in touch with a general practitioner for the checkup.

Vaccination & Screening

Gardasil is a vaccine used to guard against the HPV (Human Papillomavirus). The screening tests for anal cancer are digital anorectal examination (DARE), anal Pap test (anal Pap smear), and high resolution anoscopy.

Diagnosis

For anal cancer diagnosis, different screening tests are carried out. However, the most common tests for diagnosis are Physical examination (DARE) and Proctoscopy with biopsy.

Anal Cancer Staging

To find out how far anal cancer is spread, there are 3 stages, such as T (Tumour) 0 – 4, N (Nodes) 0 – 3, and M (Metastasis) 0 – 1.

T (Tumour) 0 – 4: It shows the growth of tumour in bowel wall & nearby areas. T1 describes that the tumour is smaller and T4 indicates that the tumour is larger.

N (Nodes) 0 – 3: This tells that the cancer is spread to the nearby lymph nodes. N0 shows that cancer isn’t present in lymph nodes, N1 shows that cancer is present in lymph nodes nearby rectum, and N3 shows cancer is present in the pelvic & groin lymph nodes on both or one side.

M (Metastasis) 0 – 1: It tells whether or not the cancer has been spread to the other, distant body parts. M0 means that the cancer isn’t spread and M1 shows that cancer has spread.

Anal Cancer Treatment

The anal cancer is rare, so you should visit a specialized institute with an MDT (multidisciplinary team) where this type of cancer is managed regularly. From there, you will get the best recommendation about the best possible anal cancer treatment. The available treatments for anal cancer are Chemoradiation (combination of chemotherapy sessions and radiation therapy) and surgery.

After you get treatment, the doctor will conduct checkups every 3 to 12 months for the several years to make sure that the cancer has not come back. If you notice any health issues between the visits, then you should immediately inform your doctor about that.

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