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Anal Cancer

Anal cancer is an uncommon cancer, with about 3,000 new cases annually. Characterized by the growth of malignant cells in the lining or mucosa of the anus, anal cancer has a very good prognosis if detected early.

Causes, Risk Factors, and Warning Signs

Causes
Although the precise causes of anal cancer are not completely understood, it is clear that the above risk factors place certain people at greater risk for developing anal cancer.

Risk Factors

The risk of developing anal cancer is greatest for people who:

  • smoke cigarettes - there is a very strong link between smoking and the development of anal cancer
  • practice anal intercourse - homosexual activity, anal intercourse and multiple sex partners at an early age are associated with an increased risk of developing anal cancer
  • experience chronic suppression of the immune system - the use of cyclosporine after kidney transplant or a diagnosis of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Virus) is associated with the development of anal cancer
  • have anal or genital warts, which may indicate the presence of the papilloma virus - a factor that may increase an individual?s risk for developing anal cancer.
Warning signs for anal cancer
These include:
  • bleeding with bowel movements
  • pain or itching in the perianal area

Diagnosis

A physician can often see anal cancer on physical examination. A sigmoidoscopy is the most common test for anal cancer. If an abnormality is visualized, a biopsy of the tissue in question is taken for examination by a pathologist. If anal cancer is confirmed, a CT scan will be performed of the abdomen and liver, the most common areas for the spread of anal cancer.

Treatment

Chemotherapy and radiation therapies are combined to preserve the anal structure.

Prevention

Drugs that treat the virus associated with anal and genital warts has a beneficial effect for halting the development of anal cancer.

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