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Cancer Health Center

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FAQ: Farrah Fawcett Fights Anal Cancer

Experts Explain the Symptoms and Treatments of Anal Cancer
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 6, 2009 -- Former "Charlie's Angel" Farrah Fawcett remained hospitalized in Los Angeles Monday, the latest setback in her three-year fight against anal cancer.

In an interview with WebMD, her doctor denied media reports that the 62-year-old actress was unconscious and in critical condition.

"She is not unconscious and has never been unconscious," says Los Angeles cancer specialist Lawrence Piro, MD. "She is doing quite well and if things continue as we hope, we expect to release her later in the week."

Piro says the actress's hospitalization was due to a blood clot that formed following cancer treatment she received in Germany.

In an interview Monday with the Associated Press, Craig Nevius, a producer who has worked with Fawcett, said the actress's cancer has spread to her liver.

Piro would not confirm this and he would not reveal the specifics of the treatment the actress had in Germany.

But he did say that Fawcett's latest treatment did not involve experimental stem cell therapy or shark cartilage, as has been reported.

Fawcett has not revealed details of her cancer or her treatment.

WebMD spoke to the American Cancer Society's Debbie Saslow, PhD, on Monday about anal cancer.

What Is Anal Cancer?

Anal cancer is a rare malignancy that starts in the anus -- the opening at the end of the rectum.

The American Cancer Society estimates that just 5,070 new cases of anal cancer occurred last year in the U.S. and just 680 people in the U.S died from the disease.

By way of contrast, more than 40,700 new cases of rectal cancer were projected.

About half of all anal cancers are diagnosed before the malignancy has spread beyond the primary site, while about a third are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes only and 10% are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to distant organs.

When it is found early, anal cancer is highly treatable.

According to the American Cancer Society, the overall five-year survival rate following diagnosis of anal cancer is 60% for men and 71% for women.

When the cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stage, five-year survival is 82%. If it has spread to surrounding lymph nodes, five-year survival drops to 60%. And when it has spread to distant organs, about one in five patients lives for five years or more.

Saslow says if the reports that Fawcett's cancer has spread to her liver are true, the actress would have stage IV cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of 19%.

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