Anal cancer refers to a malignant tumor that arises from the anal canal. The anal canal is the end of the gastrointestinal tract, between the anal opening and the rectum. This segment of the gastrointestinal tract is covered by a squamous or “skin-like” lining, which may give rise to squamous cell cancers.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2016 there will be about 8,080 new cases of patients with cancer of the anal canal with the female sex being more commonly affected (63% female vs. 36% male).
There is an increased risk of developing anal cancer in individuals who engage in anorectal receptive intercourse. There is also an association between anal cancer and sexually transmitted disease such as HIV, infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) (that causes condyloma or warts) and herpes simplex virus. However, most patients with this condition do not have any of these risk factors.
There are a few and non-specific symptoms of early anal cancer with rectal bleeding and pain being the most common. A physical examination of the area will reveal a firm lesion. A biopsy is always performed to confirm the diagnosis.
Anal canal cancers have a highly successful cure rate. Treatment includes the use of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. This therapy has an excellent response rate. Many patients are completely cured. Large surgical resections and colostomies are usually not necessary.