Cancer has become a huge focus among both the media and the medical community over the last few decades, mainly due to its aggressive symptoms and equally difficult treatment. However, there is one form of cancer that is commonly being overlooked by both outlets due to the location it effects and its taboo status in society. I am talking about anal cancer.
What Is Anal Cancer?
Anal cancer is a fairly uncommon form of cancer that starts at the opening of one’s rectum, otherwise known as the anus.
Anal cancer is often overlooked due to the nature of the location that the cancer affects, and because society often associates it with sex or dirtiness. This causes people who may be experiencing symptoms of anal cancer to not want to discuss it with their doctor or people they know due to embarrassment or shyness.
Anal cancer is not to be confused with it’s more prevalent and well-known counterpart, colorectal cancer. Whereas colorectal cancer effects the entire large intestine and the rectum, anal cancer refers to cancer that effects only the opening of the rectum.
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 the 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
Although catching anal cancer at its earliest stages is incredibly important, it can be very hard to do so since many symptoms of anal cancer are not present during that time. However, as the cancer progresses, it can produce a wide variety of symptoms. Some of these include:
Pain or tenderness in the anus
Itching in the anus
Other unusual discharge from anus
Presence of a lump or hard area near outside of anus
Unusual bowel movements
In most cases, the cause of anal cancer is unclear. However, there are factors that can increase your risk of developing anal cancer, these can include frequent irritation of the anus, cigarette smoking and a compromised immune system.
The people who are most at risk for anal cancer is anybody over the age of 60, as 80% of anal cancer cases occur in people who fall under this demographic. Under the age of 35, men are most likely to develop anal cancer, however, after the age of 50 women become slightly more at risk than men.
If you fall under the at-risk demographic, regularly encounter any of the factors that put you at risk and are experiencing any of the previously mentioned symptoms, then it would be advised to get yourself checked for anal cancer.
How To Detect Anal Cancer Early
Detecting anal cancer during it’s beginning stages can be decisive in successfully overcoming it. There are many procedures that you can undergo which will detect it, ranging from a simple X-ray to more invasive ones. Here are some of them:
Digital Rectal Exam. The “digital” in this case does not refer to electronics, but rather the digits on your fingers. During the examination the doctor puts on a lubricated glove and uses their finger to search the anal cavity for lumps of any other abnormalities.
Anoscopy. An anoscopy is when a small, tubular instrument called an anoscope is inserted into your anus so the doctor can get a more detailed look at what is going on in there. These are usually only performed if the doctor has found something abnormal during the digital rectal exam.
Biopsies, ultrasounds, x-rays, CT scans, MRIs and PET scans are all procedures that are commonly used to detect anal cancer. However, there is a lot of controversy surrounding these procedures, as many people claim that they can either spread or cause cancer.