Anal Cancer

Anal cancer affects the body’s opening at the lower end of the intestines, which allows for the passage of feces. The cells that line the anus are called squamous cells, which are a type of epithelial cell. Both benign and malignant tumors can develop in the anus. Some benign tumors like warts or skin tags can begin as benignly (pre-cancerous conditions) but develop into malignant cancer.

The most common type of anal cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, which begins in the cells that line the lower portion of the anus. Other types of anal cancer include:

  • Adenocarcinoma (begins in the cells lining the upper portion of the anus)
  • Basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer)
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors

Anal Cancer Risk Factors

The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 7,060 new cases of anal cancer are diagnosed in the United States annually. Of these, about 880 people will likely die of anal cancer. In the majority of cases, anal cancer responds well to treatment. Anal cancer is relatively rare in children.

The following factors increase the risk for developing the most common type of anal cancer, squamous cell carcinoma:

  • Being a woman
  • Being over the age of 60
  • Being African American
  • Having HPV (human papilloma virus)
  • Having HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Smoking

Signs & Symptoms of Anal Cancer

Although not always indicative of anal cancer, the following signs and symptoms may mean that you should visit your doctor and get checked:

  • Abnormal discharge from the anus
  • Bleeding, itching or pain around the anus
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin area
  • Abnormally narrow stools

Anal Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment

Anal cancer is often found early because it develops in an area of the body that can be seen and reached easily by a doctor. The most common exam for anal cancer is a digital rectal exam (DRE). A doctor may also order an anal Pap smear to test for STDs if you think you may be at risk. Other diagnostic tests include:

  • Anoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Imaging-guided biopsy
  • Pelvic ultrasound
  • Sigmoidoscopy
Anal cancer is primarily treated with some combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Anal Cancer Education, Screenings & Treatment at BayCare

BayCare is proud to offer a variety of cancer services throughout Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg and all of Tampa Bay. Call (855) 314-8346 for a physician referral or find a doctor near you. 


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