Anal cancer symptoms: Narrow stools to itching in anus, warning signs of the rare cancer you should know about
Anal cancer symptoms: One must pay attention to any changes in the bowel habits or lumps around anus. Here are signs of anal cancer you shouldn't ignore.
Anal cancer is a rare form of cancer and is less prevalent than colon or rectum cancer. An estimated 50,685 people worldwide were diagnosed with anal cancer in 2020, according to cancer.net. Anal cancer develops in the anal canal, a short tube at the end of the rectum through which stool exits the body. Anal cancer is formed due to a genetic mutation that turns healthy cells into abnormal cells. The accumulation of abnormal cells forms a mass or tumour. Cancer cells can also metasize to other parts of the body. Anal cancer is mostly caused by a sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV). Bleeding from anus, pain in anus, anal itching or a growth in the anal canal are some of the signs of anal cancer. (Also read: Tips for cancer survivors to stay healthy and happy)
"Anal cancer is an unusual form of cancer that develops in the anal canal. The anal canal is a short tube at the end of your rectum through which stool exits your body. Anal cancer occurs due to the development of abnormal cells in the body. These abnormal cells may grow destructively and build up, forming masses known as tumours. Advanced cancer cells may metastasize, or transmit to other parts of the body and hamper normal functions. Anal cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted infection known as human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is considered as the most common cause of anal cancers. Anal cancer may also occur owing to other cancers in the body extending to the anal canal. It happens when cancer develops somewhere else in the body first, and then spreads to the anus," says Dr. Balkishan Gupta, Director-Minimal Invasive GI, HPB Surgery and Colorectal surgeon, Marengo Asia Hospitals Faridabad in an interview with HT Digital.
Signs and symptoms of anal cancer
One must pay attention to any changes in the bowel habits or any physical changes around the anus. It these warning signs are ignored, the cancer may turn worse.
"People with anal cancer may present symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, thin stools, rectum bleeding and feeling pain, pressure, or the formation of a lump near the anus, discharge from the anus or itching. If symptoms are left unattended, they may get worse and turn fatal. Therefore, it is advisable to seek immediate medical attention if you experience bleeding, itching, or pain in the anus. People affected by HPV infection, HIV, having multiple sex partners and having receptive anal sex, smoking, a weakened immune system, people over the age of 50 are at high risk of developing anal cancer," says Dr Gupta.
Diagnosis of anal cancer
To detect anal cancer, routine exams or procedures are conducted. Patients are advised to undergo digital rectal exams, anal pap smears, biopsy to test for anal cancer. "Early detection is the key to effective treatment," says Dr Gupta.
Treatment of anal cancer
Depending on the age of patient and the stage of the cancer, patients may be advised several treatment options.
- Chemotherapy (used to kill cancer cells and prevent them from growing)
- Surgery to remove a tumour in the anus.
How to minimise risk of anal cancer
Getting HPV vaccine can prevent anal cancer to a large extent. Also, one should have safe sex and avoid multiple partners.
- It is advisable to adhere to safe sex (limit the number of sexual partners you have, use condoms during sex, avoid receptive anal sex and get tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections.
- Stop or limit smoking
- Get a three-dose series HPV vaccine between the ages of 9 and 26.