Anal cancer is one of the most aggressive types of cancer, especially if not detected in its early stages. Its unfavorable location, which makes it a taboo for most of the population, is yet another reason why this cancer is often overlooked.
What is anal cancer?
Anal cancer develops at the opening of the rectum (anus) from a lump which is created by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the anus. Although it’s not very common, it’s often overlooked as the symptoms it gives are too embarrassing to discuss.
Anal cancer and colorectal cancer are two different types of cancer. Colorectal cancer affects the colon and the entire rectum, whereas anal cancer only affects the opening of the rectum or the anus.
Approximately 8,000 Americans are diagnosed with anal cancer every year, with an estimated 1,000 of them expected to die from it. Almost one out of every four people who have anal cancer are diagnosed after cancer has spread to lymph nodes, and one out of every ten people with anal cancer are diagnosed after it has spread to other organs.
Although it is not as frequent as colon, rectal or colorectal cancer, the number of incidents of anal cancer is steadily increasing, and this may be due to the fact that people are not getting it treated early enough.
Symptoms of anal cancer
As with any cancer, detecting anal cancer early is crucial for successful treatment. This, however, is not always easy as the symptoms it gives are not always present. These are the symptoms you should never ignore:
Although the exact causes of anal cancer are still unknown, some contributing factors include a weakened immune system, smoking, and frequent anus irritation. Anal cancer mostly affects adults over 60. Moreover, men under 35 and women over 60 are also at a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
How to detect anal cancer in its early stage
Detecting anal cancer during its early stages is decisive in overcoming it. There are many procedures that can detect the presence of anal cancer. Here are some of them:
Digital rectal exam: The doctor first looks at the outside of the anus to find out whether you have hemorrhoids or fissures. Then, he puts on a latex glove and inserts a lubricated finger into the rectum to search for lumps or any other abnormalities.
Anoscopy: This method gives a clearer view of the inside of the anus. It’s performed with an anoscope, a small tubular instrument that a doctor inserts into your anus. This test is usually done after the doctor has found any abnormalities during the digital rectal exam.
Biopsies, ultrasounds, x-rays, CT scans, MRI’s and PET scans are all procedures that can be used to detect the presence of anal cancer. However, all of these procedures are surrounded by controversies as a result of many studies which suggest that they either spread or cause cancer.