Cancer screening exams can help find anal cancer at its earliest stage when the chances for successful treatment, optimal outcomes and fewer side effects are greatest. These tests are usually done when a patient is healthy and has no specific symptoms.
Not only are expert cancer researchers at the OSUCCC – James continually working to detect and diagnose anal cancer early, but they are also developing additional tests to detect and diagnose cancer even earlier, leading to improved outcomes, faster responses and fewer side effects.
Anal Cancer Risk Factors
A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of developing anal cancer.
The most prominent risk factor for anal cancer is infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). About 90 percent cases of anal cancer, particularly squamous cell carcinoma, are found in patients with anal HPV infection.
Getting vaccinated against HPV at a young age may help prevent anal cancer. Vaccines for HPV are available for boys and young men starting at ages 11 or 12.
Other risk factors for anal cancer include:
- Having many sexual partners
- Having receptive anal intercourse
- Being older than 50 years
- Frequent anal redness, swelling and soreness
- Having anal fistulas, which are abnormal openings
- Using tobacco
(Source: National Cancer Institute)
Not everyone with risk factors will get anal cancer. But having certain factors appears to increase your risk of developing the disease. If you are at high risk for anal cancer, talk to your doctor about tests to find out if you have early signs of the disease.
Diagnosing Anal Cancer
If symptoms suggest you might have anal cancer, your doctor will examine you and ask you about your medical history, including information about symptoms and any risk factors you may have.
The following tests and procedures may be used to help detect and diagnose anal cancer:
- Digital Rectal Examination: A procedure in which the doctor examines the anus and rectum to feel for any lumps or other abnormalities
- Anoscopy: A short, lighted tube is used to examine the anus and lower rectum
- Proctoscopy: A short, lighted tube is used to examine the rectum
- Endo-Anal or Endorectal Ultrasound: A procedure in which an ultrasound is taken using a special transducer, or probe; the ultrasound waves form a picture of the internal body tissues
- Biopsy: A procedure that removes a small piece of tissue for analysis under a microscope; a pathologist will check the sample for the presence of cancer cells
After anal cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the anus or to other parts of the body.
Staging Anal Cancer
If you are diagnosed with anal cancer, staging is a way of determining the amount and location of your cancer. This information helps your team of specialists plan the best treatment. The staging classification remains the same throughout treatment.
Anal cancer has four stages:
In stage 0, abnormal cells are found in the innermost lining of the anus. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.
In stage I, cancer has formed and the tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller.
In stage II, the tumor is larger than 2 centimeters, or three-quarters of an inch.
In stage IIIA, the tumor may be any size and has spread to either:
- Lymph nodes near the rectum; or
- Nearby organs, such as the vagina, urethra and bladder
In stage IIIB, the tumor may be any size and has spread:
- To nearby organs and to lymph nodes near the rectum; or
- To lymph nodes on one side of the pelvis and/or groin, and may have spread to nearby organs; or
- To lymph nodes near the rectum and in the groin, and/or to lymph nodes on both sides of the pelvis and/or groin and may have spread to nearby organs
In stage IV, the tumor may be any size, and cancer may have spread to lymph nodes or nearby organs and has spread to distant parts of the body.
(Source: National Cancer Institute)
If you have received an anal cancer diagnosis, or if you need a second opinion or just want to speak to an anal cancer specialist, we are here to help you. Call 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.