Anal Cancer | Minnesota

 

Anal cancer accounts for about two percent of cancers that occur in the gastrointestinal tract and usually refers to anal squamous cell carcinoma, a disease associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Anal cancer develops when the squamous cells in the anal canal become inflamed.

Patients who suffer from anal cancer often mistaken their rectal symptoms for hemorrhoidal symptoms, which leads to a significantly delayed diagnosis. Even after seeking medical attention, patients are still often misdiagnosed with having hemorrhoids. For more on these two anorectal conditions, please read our blog post, “Hemorrhoids vs. Rectal Cancer: How to Tell the Difference.”
 

Symptoms

Anorectal cancer generally does not produce any pain, although an external or internal mass may be detected. Common symptoms include anal/pelvic pain, anal bleeding, sensation of a rectal mass, local sensations of wetness/irritation, prolapse, rectal incontinence and severe constipation. About 19 percent of patients wait at least six months before seeing a doctor after first experiencing symptoms. Furthermore, about 27 percent of patients end up being misdiagnosed with other anorectal diseases, such as hemorrhoids.

Risk factors for anal cancer include having an active HPV infection, smoking, receiving anal sex, immunosuppression, having an HIV infection, and undergoing an organ transplant.
 

Treatment

Surgery is used in a limited capacity and is generally a more feasible option for early stages of anal cancer. Most patients undergo radiation therapy with radio-sensitizing chemotherapeutic agents, which may produce short-term adverse effects of chemotherapy and long-term risks of radiation exposure. Conservative management of symptoms includes lifestyle changes, bulking agents and anti-diarrheal agents. Vaccination against HPV serotypes 16 and 18, which are believed to cause most cases of anal cancer, is the best way to prevent anal cancer.

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