Anal cancer originates from the lining cells covering the anus till the GI tract that lies after rectum. Cancers outside anus are called as peri-anal cancer and they belong to the category of skin cancer. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is known to cause anal cancer and cervical cancer. The treatment for anal cancer varies with the size and extent to which it has spread and also on the general health condition of the person. Earlier anal caners were removed surgically in which a hole is drilled into the abdomen which is attached to a bag which collects the feces, thereby removing the ano-rectum area totally.
The causes for getting anal cancer are varied and diverse. When you have sex with several partners or when you have sex through anal area the chance of getting anal cancer is increased. When there is development of fissure in the anus, frequent infection and inflammation on the anus also triggers cancer cells. Age also plays a role in anal cancer and old age people are more prone to get this cancer. The symptoms of anal cancer are bleeding on the anus, severe itching, pain or discomfort in and around anus and lump or lesions around the anus. Some common methods of treating anal cancer are by chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. In chemotherapy, strong drugs are used to kill the growth of cancer cells. In radiation therapy, high powered x-rays are used for destroying cancerous cells. During surgery, local resection of anus is done by removing the tumor cells from the anus.
What Is Anal Cancer?
Anal cancer is a very rarely occurring cancer when compared with colon cancer. Approximately 1 out of 100,000 men/women are developing anal cancer each year in the USA. Anal cancer develops in the anal cavity which is a short tube like structure through which fecal particles are expelled from the body. Cancer, of any kind is nothing but overgrowth of cells which multiply in uncontrolled manner. Gradually these cells invade the neighboring tissues and slowly spread to other organs and lymph nodes. Here they get implanted and grow bigger in size. This process is known as metastasizing (moving from the place of origin).
Anal cancer can cause common symptoms like rectal bleeding and pain while passing stool and apparent weight loss. Anal cancer is caused by sexual transmission of HPV virus from infected person to another. Most of the diagnosed cases are found to be infected with HPV. Anal cancer can be treated with chemotherapy, radioactive therapy and through surgery. Prognosis of the case depends on the individual’s age, health condition and stage of cancer. If diagnosed in early stages, most of the types of cancer can be completely cured. Each year around 8080 fresh cases are being diagnosed with anal cancer in the America alone.
Symptoms Of Anal Cancer :
Some of the warning signals of anal cancer are given below:-
- Occasional bleeding from the rectum/anus
- Thick growth or polyp like structure in the anal canal
- Persistent itching in and around the anus
- Pain while passing stool
- Change in bowel movements
- Pus like drainage from the anus with foul smell
- Swelling of lymph nodes in the anus
Often, anal cancer can be easily detected in early stages due to the above symptoms. However the above signs are common for other conditions like piles (hemorrhoids) and hence you need not worry if you have some of the above signs. You can check with your doctor to know the right position.
Causes Of Anal Cancer :
As stated already, cancer of any type develops due to overgrowth of abnormal cells. Genetic mutation occurs in uncontrolled fashion destroying healthy cells. Gradually these cells will unite together to form a mass or tumor invading nearby tissues and glands. Though anal cancer is not actually caused by Human Papilloma Virus, presence of HPV is confirmed in majority of the cases detected with anal cancer.
Anal Cancer Risk Factors :
There are certain risk factors that increase the chance of getting anal cancer.
- Age : As one grows older, (above 55 years) risk of anal cancer also increases.
- Active Sex : People who are professional sex workers and those with many sex partners are at high risk of developing anal cancer through sexual infection.
- Anal Sex : People who have pleasure in having anal sex often are at risk of anal cancer.
- HPV : If you are already infected with HPV you are likely to get anal and cervical cancer.
- Immunosuppressive Drugs : People who are taking medications to suppress the immune system for long period are at high risk of anal cancer.
Anal cancer can be easily detected on routine physical exam for checking prostate or during pelvic examination. It is often diagnosed during screening tests done for colorectal cancer. The doctor uses special lighted instrument to investigate any abnormal growth in the anus. If needed, he would remove a tiny sample (biopsy) to be tested in the lab for the presence of cancer. Your doctor would insert his gloved finger into the anus to feel any abnormality or growth of tumor. If necessary he may order for sound wave pictures of anus. If the tests result is positive, he may order for imaging tests like CT/MRI scan to know the stage of cancer.
Stages Of Anal Cancer :
Like any other cancer, anal cancer can be categorized into 4 stages.
- First Stage – Here the growth of tumor is roughly 2 cm or below, more or less size of a peanut. If detected in this early stage it can be treated and cured completely.
- Second Stage – Growth of mass or tumor is more than 2 cm but still the cancerous cells has not started to spread anywhere in the body. At this stage also anal cancer can be fully treated.
- Third Stage A and B – This stage, the cancer cells has started metastasis process (spreading to nearby tissues and lymph nodes of vagina or bladder). It is difficult to treat anal cancer at this stage but still most of the symptoms can be managed. In the IIIB stage, the size of the cancer is big and has invaded the lymph nodes of internal organs.
- Fourth Stage – In the final stage of anal cancer, cancer causing cells have moved into deeper parts of the body like lungs and liver etc.
Pictures of Anal Cancer :
Images, Pics, Pictures and Photos of Anal Cancer :
Anal Cancer Treatment :
Treatment is not the same for each person detected with anal cancer. Your doctor will consider various factors like your age, general health and stage of cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment are the best available methods of treating anal cancer.
- Chemotherapy – In this method, drugs are either taken in the form of oral pills or as injection. Suitable strengths of medications are given so that it can travel throughout the body thus destroying cancer causing cells. In this process it may damage healthy cells also. Chemo method can cause side effects like vomiting, nausea and loss of hair.
- Radiation Therapy – High energy beams resembling the X-rays are passed directly into the body in the affected area. Here the patient will be comfortably lying down on a table and radiation beams are focused into specific areas of the body (in and around anus). This method is effective in killing cancer cells but it can destroy healthy cells. And cause adverse effects like swelling and painful sores on the anus. Combined therapy of chemo and radiation is given in many cases for getting the best result. The patient has to repeat several sessions of chemotherapy and radiation depending on the staging of cancer.
Based on the stage of cancer and its size, surgery may be done. Early stage of anal cancer can be removed fully with surgery. Since the size of tumor would be small, it is easy to remove the mass fully. Often, the muscles that control bowel movements are not damaged in this surgery. After the surgery, you may be given chemotherapy or radiation.
Last Stage Of Anal Cancer :
If the cancer cells have invaded nearby tissues and organs, surgery is done in the form of AP resection in which, the surgeon would cut and remove affected parts of abdominoperineal section. Anal canal and rectum along with major portion of colon will be removed. The surgeon will then join the remaining part of colon to a small opening called stoma in the stomach where the feces get collected. Colostomy (removal of colon and rectum) is not done in majority of cases. Only in few rare cases it is done. Your doctor will explain about the side effects and easy ways of managing it. And you should go for regular check-ups after the surgery to prevent recurring of anal cancer.
Tips For Prevention :
- Anal cancer cannot be prevented fully but you can always reduce the risk factors.
- If you are above 50 years, go for regular physical exam and in case of any doubts about the above symptoms don’t hesitate to check with your doctor.
- Use condoms when having sex with strangers and it is better to reduce the number of sex partners.
- You can get a shot of HPV to prevent the risk of getting infected.
- Men can undergo screening tests for detecting anal cancer like women do for cervical cancer.
- If detected early, it is easy to treat anal cancer.