Anal cancer is a very rare cancer. It is a lump , that occurs in the anus, the end of the gastrointestinal tract, which is created by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the anus.Anal cancer is more common among women, men who receive anal intercourse, and people with weakened immune systems. Experts say that anal cancer is closely associated with some HPV (human papilloma virus) strains.
What causes anal cancer?Experts are not sure what causes anal cancer. However, the following are considered as possible risk factors:
- HPV (human papilloma virus) - some types of HPV are closely linked to anal cancer. Approximately 80% of patients with anal cancer are infected in the anal area with a HPV.
- Sexual partner numbers - this is also linked to HPV. The more sexual partners somebody has (or has had) the higher are the chances of being infected with HPV, which is closely linked to anal cancer risk.
- Receptive anal intercourse - both men and women who receive anal intercourse have a higher risk of developing anal cancer. HIV-positive men who have sex with men are up to 90 times more likely than the general population to develop anal cancer, this study revealed.
- Other cancers - women who have had vaginal or cervical cancer, and men who have had penile cancer are at higher risk of developing anal cancer. This is also linked to HPV infection.
- Age - the older somebody is the higher is his/her risk of developing anal cancer. In fact, this is the case with most cancers.
- A weak immune system - people with a weakened immune system have a higher risk of developing anal cancer. This may include people with HIV/AIDS, patients who have had transplants and are taking immunosuppressant medications.
- Smoking - smokers are significantly more likely to develop anal cancer compared to non-smokers. In fact, smoking raises the risk of developing several cancers.
- Benign anal lesions - IBD (irritable bowel disease), hemorrhoids, fistulae or cicatrices. Inflammation resulting from benign anal lesions may increase a person's risk of developing anal cancer.
How is anal cancer diagnosed?The first person to see will probably be a GP (general practitioner, primary care physician). The GP will ask the patient about his/her symptoms and carry out an examination. The doctor will also need to know about the patient's medical history. Then the patient will be referred to a colorectal surgeon - this is a doctor who specializes in bowel conditions. Colorectal surgeons are sometimes called proctologists. The specialist may carry out the following tests:
- A rectal examination - this may be a bit uncomfortable, but is not painful. A proctoscope or sigmoidoscope may be used - an instrument that allows the doctor to examine the area in more detail. In some countries this device is called an anoscope, and the procedure 'anoscopy'. The examination will determine whether the patient needs a biopsy.
- A biopsy - a small sample of tissue is taken from the anal area and sent to the lab for testing. Tissue will be examined under a microscope.
- CT (computerized tomography) scan - X-rays are used to create a 3-dimensional picture of the target area.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan - magnets and radio waves produce 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional pictures of the target area.
- Ultrasound scan - sound waves are used to create an image of the target area. This could be done internally with a rectal ultrasound - the instrument is inserted into the anus before the scanning begins.
"As, ignorance is always the main cause of cancer."