Anal Cancer-Symptoms, Types, Causes, and Treatment

What is Anal Cancer?

Anal cancer is quite a rare kind of cancer that happens to occur in the anal canal. The anal canal is basically a short tube located at the end of the gastrointestinal tract through which the stool leaves our body. Most people suffering from anal cancer are treated with an apt combination of radiation and chemotherapy. Though combining the anal cancer treatments tends to increase the chance of a cure, but the combined treatments might also increase the risk of certain side effects.

There are several factors linked to anal cancer, but the infection with two types of human papillomavirus (HPV) generally underlie 79 percent of the cases. Apparently, Anal cancer is very atypical before the age of 35 years. The average age of any diagnosis, in this case, is in the early 60s. Studies of the years have shown that only 1 in 500 men and mostly women face the risk of getting Anal Cancer.

This being a very unfamiliar disease, it’s important that we get acquainted with its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Types of Anal Cancer-

Factually, there are various forms of anal cancer, each defined by the type of tumor that gets developed. A tumor is eventually an abnormal growth in the body. The tumors can either be benign or even malignant. Even malignant tumors might spread to other parts of your body over time if left untreated. Examples of these tumors include:

  • Benign tumors-

Tumors that are benign are actually noncancerous tumors. In the anus, this might include skin tags, poly.ps, granular cell tumors, and some kinds of genital warts.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma-

Squamous cell cancer is the most familiar type of anal cancer in the United States. These malignant tumors in our anus are caused by several abnormal squamous cells.

  • Precancerous conditions-

This condition refers to the benign tumors that might become malignant over time, which is very common in anal squamous intraepithelial neoplasia (ASIL) and anal intraepithelial neoplasia (AIN)

  • Basal cell carcinoma- 

Basal cell carcinoma is actually a type of skin cancer that generally affects the skin exposed to the sun. Because of that, it is a very rare form of anal cancer.

  • Bowen’s disease-

This condition, also known as squamous cell carcinoma in situ is characterized by a plethora of abnormal cells on anal surface tissue that haven’t yet invaded deeper layers.

  • Adenocarcinoma-

This is a quite rare form of cancer that generally arises from the glands surrounding our anus.

Symptoms Of Anal Cancer-

  • Rectal bleeding can be noticed if there is blood on toilet paper or feces.
  • Lumps around your anus, which might be mistaken for hemorrhoids or piles.
  • Medium or severe pain in the anal area.
  • Changes in your bowel movements, including constipation, diarrhea or thinning of the stool.
  • Problems controlling your bowel movements or fecal incontinence.
  • Mucus or some kind of jelly-like discharge from the anus
  • Itching in your anal area.
  • Women might experience severe lower back pain as the tumor tends to press on the vagina.
  • Bloating.
  • Women can experience unusual vaginal dryness.

Causes of Anal Cancer-

In anal cancer, the uncontrolled and abnormal growth of cells in our anus creates a tumor. The anus is the area at the very end of the gastrointestinal tract. The anal canal actually connects the rectum to the outside of our body. It is conclusively surrounded by a muscle called the sphincter. This sphincter controls our bowel movements through contraction and relaxation. The anus is that part where our anal canal opens to the outside.

As a matter of fact, the anal canal is lined with several squamous cells. These flat cells basically look like fish scales, as seen under the microscope. now, most anal cancers develop from these squamous cells. Such kind of cancer is called squamous cell carcinomas.

As per human body diagnosis, the point at which our anal canal meets our rectum is known as the transitional zone. This zone has squamous cells and several glandular cells. These produce the mucus which helps the stool, or even the feces, pass through our anus smoothly.

Most of the anal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, but even adenocarcinoma can develop from the glandular cells in the anus.

Risk Factors to Anal Cancer-

Well, multiple risk factors have been diagnosed over the years that are primarily linked to anal cancer. They include one or even a combination of the following:

1. Human papillomavirus (HPV):

Certain types of HPV are predominantly related to anal cancer. Around 79 percent of the people with anal cancer have HPV. researchers have concluded that around 8% of the population has other types of HPV.

2. Receptive anal intercourse:

Men and women who practice anal intercourse generally have a higher risk of developing anal cancer. Men, who might be HIV-positive and involve themselves in sex with men are up to 90 times more likely to be attacked by anal cancer, in comparison to the general population.

3. Multiple sexual partners:

Many times, people involve themselves in sex with more than one partner simultaneously or over a time span. This activity tends to increase the risk of the contracting HPV, which, in turn, would increase the risk of anal cancer, which is a very well known risk factor.

4. Other cancers:

Women who have had vaginal or cervical cancer in past and men who have had penile cancer are definitely at a higher risk of developing anal cancer. This is also invariably linked to HPV infection.

5. A weakened immune system:

People with HIV or AIDS and even those who have been taking immunosuppressant medications after some kind of transplant are always at a greater risk.

6. Age:

Anal cancer, just like most cancers, is eventually more likely to be detected at an older age.

7. Benign anal lesions:

Irritable bowel disease (IBD), fistula, hemorrhoids, or cicatrices have been often linked to anal cancer. Particularly inflammations resulting from benign anal lesions might increase the risk.

8. Smoking:

Medium and Chain Smokers have a significantly increased risk of anal and other kinds of cancers than the non-smokers.


Anal cancer hardly spreads to distant parts of the body. Quite a small percentage of tumors are actually found to have spread, but those that actually do are extremely difficult to be treated. Anal cancer that happens to metastasize most commonly spreads to the lungs and liver of a person.

Prevention of Anal Cancer

Well, frankly speaking, there is just no sure way to prevent anal cancer. But to reduce the risks you can practice the following methods-

1. Practice safer sex:

Avoiding sex or maybe practicing safe sex might help in preventing HPV and HIV, two of the sexually transmitted viruses that might increase your risk of anal cancer. If you decide to have anal sex, make sure that you use condoms.

2. Stop smoking: 

Smoking undoubtedly increases the risk of anal cancer. Don’t start smoking and try to stop if you currently do so.

3. Get vaccinated against HPV:

Two vaccines — Cervarix and Gardasil — are given to protect against the HPV infection. Men, women and even transgenders can be vaccinated against HPV.

Now that we have known the causes, risk factors and how to prevent anal cancer, let’s know how to treat it if you by any chance get attacked.

Treatment of Anal Cancer-

Treatment for anal cancer would depend on various factors, including how large the tumor is, whether or not it has spread, where it is located, and even the general health of the patient. Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the main options. let’s get started with the available options-

1. Surgery

Well, the type of surgery for Anal cancer depends on the size and position of the tumor caused.

2. Resection

The surgeon apparently removes a small tumor and some surrounding tissues that might cause harm too. But, this can only be done if the anal sphincter is not really affected. Even after this procedure, the person will be able to pass a bowel movement.

3. Abdominoperineal resection

The rectum, anus and a section of the bowel are removed through surgery, and a colostomy would be established. In that colostomy, the end of the bowel is brought out to the surface of the abdomen. A bag is then placed over your stoma or the opening. The bag then collects the stools outside the body. A person with this kind of colostomy can lead quite a normal life, play sports, and even be sexually active.

4. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy

Most patients will probably need radiation therapy, chemotherapy or both. Radiation therapy might be combined with the chemotherapy to destroy the anal cancer cells. Treatments might be given together or one after the other. This approach results in increasing the chance of retaining some intact anal sphincter. Survival and remission rates are actually good.

Chemotherapy employs cytotoxic drugs that happen to prevent the cancer cells from dividing. They are given that orally or by injection.

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays that destroy the cancer cells. Radiation can be delivered internally or externally.

Well, chemotherapy and radiotherapy have adverse effects, and they being combined can make the side effects much more acute.

Side effects might include:

  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • A higher susceptibility to various infections during treatment
  • Soreness and blistering caused around the anus
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of hair
  • Mouth ulcers or sore mouth
  • A low white blood cell count, increasing the risk of infection
  • A low platelet count, raising the risk of bruising or bleeding
  • Narrowing and dryness of the vagina
  • Anemia, due to a low red blood cell count
  • Rashes
  • Dry skin
  • Excessive coughing and sometimes breathing difficulties
  • Muscle and nerve problems
  • Fertility problems

Now, as we are well aware of the prerequisites and the possible treatments, it’s time to realize that prevention is better than cure.

Kabbyashree Dasgupta

An untamed perfectionist of imperfection. Writing is not only my hobby but an inculcated passion, which transports me into a different world altogether. As a part-time freelancer, I love writing articles and imparting knowledge, on my journey of learning a little bit more, each day.

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