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Anal cancer: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About anal cancer

This is a malignant condition of the anal canal, which is a tubular structure at the end of the gastro-intestinal tract through which stool exits the body. The tumour cells arise from the mucous membrane lining the anal canal. It is quite a rare malignancy.

Anal cancer: Incidence, age and sex

Anal cancer is an infrequent occurrence which may affect individuals in the fifth or sixth decade. Homosexuals have a greater preponderance for this malignancy.

Signs and symptoms of anal cancer: Diagnosis

The best part of anal cancer is that it may be diagnosed early. The common clinical features include pain and bleeding in the anal region. Sometimes distressing features like anal itching and change in bowel movements may occur. Some patients may also complain of feeling a lumpy mass in the anal canal. A thorough physical examination by a doctor may reveal enlarged lymph nodes in the groin.

Causes and prevention of anal cancer

The exact cause of anal cancer is not known yet. It is suspected that certain genetic mutations may lead to this malignancy. Following are some risk factors which may be associated with anal cancer:

  • Viral infection caused by Human Papilloma Virus which causes warts in the anus.
  • Immunosuppressed conditions like AIDS.
  • History of warts in the cervix
  • Exposure to radiotherapy in the pelvic region
  • Multiple sex partners

Some preventive measures like smoking cessation, indulging in safe sex and avoidance of anal intercourse may help in preventing anal cancer.

Anal cancer: Complications

Fortunately anal cancer is usually self contained and does not spread to other organs. It very rarely spreads to the liver or the lungs, if it does then the cancer has reached an advanced stage.

Anal cancer: Treatment

The diagnosis can be established by anal pap smear or anal tissue biopsy. Anal cancer is one of the few malignancies that can be diagnosed early and treated effectively. All three treatment modalities namely surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy play important roles in its treatment. Surgical treatment can be considered in the early stage of the disease when the malignancy has not spread to other body organs. Radiotherapy is used to shrink the size of tumour cells. Chemotherapy in which oral or intravenous medications are used help in treatment by killing the affected cells. The combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy is the treatment of choice. Early detection of anal cancer has a good survival rate.