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Cancer Health Center

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Anal Cancer - Overview

Is this topic for you?

Anal cancer is not the same as cancer of the colon or rectum. To learn about these cancers, see the topic Colorectal Cancer.

What is anal cancer?

Anal cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the anus camera.gif, which is the opening at the end of the rectum. Anal cancer is not common and is often curable.

Like other cancers, anal cancer can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. To find out how severe your cancer is, your doctor will classify it by stage and grade.

What causes anal cancer?

Some problems, such as infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) and anal warts, can lead to anal cancer. Other things that can increase the risk for anal cancer include having many sex partners, receptive anal intercourse (anal sex), infection with HIV, and smoking cigarettes.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of anal cancer include:

  • Bleeding from the anus.
  • Redness, swelling, or pain in the area of the anus.
  • Itching or discharge from the anus.
  • A lump near the anus.

How is anal cancer diagnosed?

The doctor will examine the anus and rectum. A digital rectal exam is often done. If anal cancer is suspected, your doctor will want to do a biopsy.

To see if the cancer has spread, the doctor may do a:

How is it treated?

Treatment for anal cancer often includes radiation and chemotherapy (chemoradiation). Sometimes surgery is needed. Your treatment and how well it works depends on the stage of the cancer and your general health.

Side effects

Radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery can have serious side effects. But your medical team will help you manage the side effects of your treatment. If you have chemotherapy or radiation, you may need medicines to control nausea and vomiting. If you have surgery, you may need medicines for pain.

Fatigue is common with cancer treatment. But staying active and eating well before, during, and after your treatment may help you have more energy.

  • Get some physical activity every day. Ask a friend to take a walk with you.
  • Eat healthy foods. Foods with protein and extra calories can help you stay strong and prevent weight loss. Try liquid meal replacements.
  • Eat smaller meals more often, or eat your main meal early.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep yourself hydrated.

Talk with your doctor and medical team about any side effects.

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