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Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Anal cancer occurs when cancer cells grow and develop in the anus. Although the case is relatively rare, the risk of death from this disease is quite high. Check out an explanation of the symptoms, causes, and how to treat it in the following review.

Anal Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is Anal Cancer?

Anal cancer is a type of cancer that appears anywhere in the anus or rectum. The anus is the end of the large intestine which is located below the rectum. Its function is as a channel to remove dirt or feces.

The severity of the condition depends on the location of the cancer, how big it is, whether the cancer has spread, and the patient’s general health condition.

How Common Is Anal Cancer?

This disease is rare, but quite risky to cause death. The risk of being diagnosed with this type of cancer is about 1 in 500.

The American Cancer Society predicts that cases of anal cancer will touch 9,000 sufferers in 2023; with women experiencing it more than men.

Meanwhile, deaths are expected to occur in as many as 1,800 cases; with the highest cases occurring in men than women.

Anal Cancer Symptoms

The most common symptom found in patients is bleeding. Apart from that, anal itching can also be one of the signs. In some cases, this condition is often mistaken for hemorrhoids or hemorrhoids.

Here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Bleeding: the most common symptom of this cancer is bleeding from the rectum. This condition might cause bloody bowel movements.
  • Pain: onset of pain around the anal area along with bleeding. This condition may be exacerbated when constipated.
  • Severe itching: This disease causes severe itching (pruritus) around the anus.
  • Lump: Cancer gives rise to a lump that may be felt around the anus.
  • Anus discharge: Mucus coming from the anus (discharge) can be a sign of anal cancer.
  • Inability to control defecation. Cancer may cause sufferers to have difficulty controlling their bowels (fecal incontinence). This condition results in more frequent bowel movements.

When is the Right Time to See a Doctor?

Immediately consult a doctor if you experience some of the symptoms mentioned above, especially if you have factors that increase your risk of this cancer.

Also Read: Anus Abscess: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment, Prevention

Causes of Anal Cancer

Anal cancer develops when cancer cells grow out of control in the anus. The buildup of abnormal cells then forms a mass (tumor).

These cancer cells will then invade nearby tissue and will separate from the initial tumor to spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).

However, it is not clear why this condition occurs. Even so, the incidence of this cancer is closely related to infection human papillomavirus (HPVs).

In fact, HPV is detected in the majority of anal cancers. In fact, HPV is considered the most common cause of this cancer.

Risk Factors

A number of factors are known to increase the risk of anal cancer, including:

  • Elderly: most cases occur in people over the age of 50.
  • Anal sex: this sex activity can increase the risk of anal cancer.
  • Frequently changing sexual partners: Having multiple sexual partners carries a higher risk of developing this condition.
  • History of cancer: A person who has had cancer of the cervix, vulva, or vagina has a high risk of anal cancer.
  • Smoking: active or passive smokers, both are more at risk.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV infection increases the risk of anal and cervical cancer.
  • Medications: taking drugs to suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants), including having received an organ transplant.
  • Weak immune system: HIV which is the virus that causes AIDS can suppress the immune system and increase the risk of cancer.

Also Read: 10 Causes of Bleeding Anus to Watch Out for

Anal cancer diagnosis

Before making a diagnosis, the doctor will perform a physical examination. In addition, the doctor will likely ask about the symptoms that are felt and ask about the patient’s medical history.

If you find that this condition leads to cancer, you can be referred to a colorectal surgeon, a specialist in intestinal conditions.

A series of tests will be carried out to determine the diagnosis. Some of the checks that can be done include:

1. Anoscopy

This test is done to see directly the condition of the anus. The doctor will use an anoscope, a short, hollow tube with a light at the end.

Previously, the anoscope would be smeared with a special gel, then the doctor would insert it into the anus and lower rectum.

2. Endoscopy

The test is carried out to see the inside of the body using a thin tube equipped with a camera.

3. Biopsy

If the results of the endoscope examination reveal the possibility of cancer, the doctor will proceed with a biopsy.

This action is taking a sample from the anus. After the sample is taken, the doctor will examine it in the laboratory to detect the presence of cancer cells.

4. Imaging Test

This test is an examination performed to get an overview of the inside of the body. The examination involves the use of X-rays, magnetic fields, sound waves, or radioactive substances.

This examination can also help diagnose anal cancer in various ways, such as:

  • Help find cancer.
  • Find out how far the cancer has spread.
  • Helps determine the progress of treatment.
  • Look for signs of cancer developing after treatment.

Some of the imaging tests that can be done, ie x-rays, ultrasound, CT scansMRI scansand PET scans.

Anal Cancer Stage

The severity of this type of cancer is divided into several levels. Here’s the explanation:

At this stage, cancer begins to develop. The size varies, namely 2 centimeters or smaller.

Cancer in the anus grows larger or measures more than 2 centimeters. However, at this stage, the spread of cancer has not been detected.

This stage describes that the cancer has grown to a larger size and has spread to the lymph nodes near the anus.

The cancer has also spread to nearby organs such as the vagina, urinary tract and bladder.

The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs far from the anus, such as the lungs and liver.

Also Read: 10 Types of Cancer That Can Appear Without Early Symptoms, Don’t Ignore It

Anal Cancer Treatment

Treatment of cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, overall health condition, and important things that must be prioritized.

In general, several treatments can be done, including:

1. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a treatment using drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. Therapy administered depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

2. Radiation Therapy

This therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy rays, such as X-rays or protons. The goal is to kill cancer cells.

There are two types of radiation therapy, including:

  • External therapy: a machine outside the body will be used to send radiation to the cancer.
  • Internal therapy: a radioactive substance in a needle, wire, or catheter will be placed directly into or close to the cancer.

This method of radiation therapy may be given depending on the type and stage of the cancer.

3. Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is done by using the patient’s immune system to fight cancer. This treatment is usually indicated for patients with advanced anal cancer.

4. Operation

Based on the stage of the cancer, doctors usually use different procedures to get rid of this condition. Some of the surgical procedures that can be performed are:

  • Local resection: this is the act of removing the cancer from the anus along with some healthy tissue around it. This method can be done if the tumor is small and has not spread.
  • Abdominoperineal resection: surgical removal of the anus, rectum, and part of the sigmoid colon through surgery in the abdomen.

5. Supportive therapy

Anal cancer treatment can have side effects. Therefore, patients are usually advised to carry out supportive therapy.

Supportive or palliative therapy may be given to reduce the severity of symptoms, while minimizing the side effects of cancer treatment. Therapy will be combined with other cancer treatments.

Also Read: Detecting Colon Cancer Symptoms Through Feces, What Does It Look Like?

Anal Cancer Complications

This condition rarely spreads to other organs of the body that are located far from this organ. If it spreads, the cancer will usually attack organs such as the lungs and liver.

Anal Cancer Prevention

Until now there is no sure way to prevent this disease. However, there are several ways you can do to reduce the risk of this disease, including:

  • Practice safe sex to prevent infection with HPV and HIV. Avoid anal sex.
  • Use condoms when having sex.
  • Get the HPV vaccination to protect against HPV infection. This vaccine is recommended for adolescents, including boys and girls. However, adults can also receive this vaccine.
  • If you have risk factors for cancer, be sure to do regular cancer screening.
  • Stop smoking and stay away from exposure to cigarette smoke.
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