While there are many type of cancer discovered, many people do not even know some of the rare types. One of these rare cancers is anal cancer. Most people do not even take time to worry about their anal health. Even in a routine visit to the doctor, anal health is not much checked. However, many people can have a high risk for anal cancer, particularly men who have sexual interaction with men, those who have HIV and women with precancerous changes that can be found in routine pap screening.
For 30 years, cases of anal cancer have been doubled in the US with over 7,000 reported cases every year. Different from rectal and colon cancer, anal cancer is mostly caused by strains of HPV or the Human Papilloma Virus which has hundreds of different subtypes and the main cause of women’s cervical cancer. There are about a fifth of women and half of man among the 1.7 million people in the United States that are infected with HIV and can have HPV-related changes in the anus’ cells which may develop into anal cancer.
Signs and Symptoms
While anal cancer is rare, it is obvious that the numbers of its victims are increasing yearly. Common symptoms of anal cancer include:
- Vaginal dryness in women
- Lower back pain in women due to the tumor that presses on the vagina
- Problems in controlling bowel movements or fecal incontinence
- Anal itching
- Jelly-like or mucus discharge from the anus
- Change in bowel movements like thinning of stools, constipation, and diarrhea
- Lumps around the anus that may be mistaken for hemorrhoids
- Pain in the anal area
There are a few factors that can increase anal cancer risk. These may include:
- Cancer History
Individuals who had vaginal, vulvar or cervical cancer have a high risk of anal cancer.
- Old Age
Cases of anal cancer usually happen in people that ages 50 and above.
- Anal Sex
Those people engaging in anal sex increases their risk factors.
- Multiple Sex Partner
Having multiple partners you had sex with will increase your risk of anal cancer.
- HPV or Human Papilloma Virus
A type of infection that is transmitted through sexual activity and increase your risk of a few cancers like cervical and anal cancer.
Cigarette Smoking does not only harm your lungs but can also increase your risk of several types of cancer like lung and anal cancer.
- Conditions and drugs that restrain the immune system
Individuals who take immunosuppressive drugs and those that receive organ transplant has increased risk of anal cancer. Also, people with HIV have a higher risk of anal cancer since it is a virus that suppresses the immune system.
- Certain Conditions
Conditions like anal fistulas or an abnormal opening of the anus can increase your risk of anal cancer
If you experience such symptoms and feel that you are at risk, what should you do now?
Well, you need to overcome your embarrassment and think about your health. You can visit a doctor specialized in the Gastrointestinal system or Gastroenterologist. Have them perform an anal Pap smear. According to Dr. Vikram Tarugu MD, Pap smears significantly diminished cases of cervical cancer in women and since HPV also affects the anus the same way with the cervix, anyone who feels they are at risk of anal cancer should take this simple test. This test only takes a few minutes since the doctor will only insert and brush a swab into your anal.
After that, the swab will then be sent to the laboratory for checking if there are any cell changes that make up the lining of the anus or any virus subtypes that can cause anal warts. If there is a presence of abnormal cells, an HRA or high-resolution anoscopy is needed. It is a procedure that allows the doctor to inspect the tissue in your anal canal closely. If there are any abnormal tissues that are biopsied, it will be sent to the pathology lab to look for signs of cancer or premalignant cells that will require further treatment.