Anal cancer is a form of cancer that affects the tissues of the anus and its surrounding areas. Although uncommon, it is a serious condition that should never be overlooked. Anal cancer can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or lifestyle. It is important to understand the causes, symptoms, and treatments available for this disease. Read on to know more about anal cancer, its symptoms, and how it can be managed.
What is anal cancer?
It is a rare class of cancer that affects the tissues of the anus. Basically, it is a malignant tumor that grows in the tissues of the anus and can spread to other parts of the body. It usually begins in the cells that line the anal canal, which is a short, muscular tube that connects the anus to the rectum.
Anal cancer can have many different signs and symptoms that vary as per the type and stage of cancer. Early detection is vital to receiving the best possible treatment. Common symptoms of anal cancer include:
- Pain or a sensibility of pressure in the anus
- Anal bleeding or discharge
- Swelling or a lump near the anus
- Itching around the anus
- Changes in bowel habits, for instance, having thinner stools or needing to strain when defecating.
- An experience of fullness or discomfort in the rectum
- Pain during bowel movements or while sitting.
It is still unclear as to what exactly causes anal cancer. But understanding the risk factors associated with it can help in early detection and symptom management. A large number of anal cancer cases are associated with human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus can cause changes in the cells of the anal canal that can eventually lead to anal cancer. Other risk factors include:
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Having unprotected sex
- Engaging in receptive anal intercourse
- Being immunocompromised
- Having a history of cervical or other genital cancers.
Additionally, people who have previously received treatment for anal dysplasia, a condition characterized by precancerous cell changes, are at increased risk for anal cancer.
Anal cancer can be difficult to diagnose since most symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. If the physician suspects the presence of anal cancer, he or she will perform a physical exam and examine the area around the anus. The doctor may also use a small tube called an anoscope to view the anus and rectum. This process is called anoscopy.
The doctor may also take tissue samples from the anus or rectum to perform a biopsy. During this procedure, a small piece of tissue is removed and sent to a laboratory to be tested for cancerous cells. In some cases, ultrasound, CT scanning, or MRI may be used to help diagnose anal cancer.
If anal cancer is detected, further tests may be done to determine its extent. This includes blood tests to check for high levels of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), a protein produced by some cancer cells.
Anal cancer can be successfully treated if it is detected early. It is vital to discuss any concerns about symptoms with a doctor so that an accurate diagnosis can be done, and treatment can begin as soon as possible.
Several treatments are available for anal cancer, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery.
It uses powerful chemicals to destroy cancer cells. These treatment options are injected into a vein or taken orally. They work by eliminating or slowing the growth of cancer cells. In most cases, chemotherapy is combined with other treatments like radiation therapy.
It is a type of treatment that uses high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells.
Surgery is another method that can be used to remove tumors or lymph nodes affected by cancer. Depending on the size of the tumor and its location, the surgeon may opt to remove the entire anus and rectum or just a portion of them.
Such therapies are used to target specific molecules involved in cancer development and progression. These therapies work by blocking signals from these molecules and can be combined with other treatments.
It is a treatment that helps the body’s immune system fight cancer. This treatment helps stimulate the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.