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. The colorectal cancer affects the colon and the entire rectum, whereas anal cancer only affects the opening of the rectum or the anus.
Anal cancer affects nearly 8,000 Americans every year, 1,000 of whom die. One in four people is diagnosed with this cancer only after it spreads to the lymph nodes, and one in ten people is diagnoses after the cancer has metastasized to other organs. Unfortunately, this cancer has been on the rise in recent years, although it’s still rarer than colorectal, rectal or colon cancer.
Anal Cancer Symptoms
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:
- Itching in the anus
- Tenderness or pain in the anus
- Unusual bowel movements
- Anal bleeding
- Unusual discharge from the anus
- A hardened area or a lump near the anus
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
As already mentioned, early detection is vital for successful treatment. Traditional medicine offers a number of methods to detect anal cancer and some of these include:
Digital Rectal Exam: A doctor examines the anal cavity with their fingers looking for any abnormalities or lumps in the anus.
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.
PET scans, MRIs, CT scans, x-rays, ultrasounds and biopsies are also methods used for detection of anal cancer. These tests are found controversial by some people who claim that they can cause anal cancer to spread.