Anal cancer is a fairly uncommon cancer, accounting for about 1-2% of cancers of the GI tract. However, the incidence of this cancer is on the rise.
Who is at risk?
Anal cancer is associated with infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV), which similarly causes cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer in women and penile cancer in men. The recommended yearly PAP smear for women tests for cervical HPV and is a preventative test for cervical cancer. Women with positive cervical PAP smears are also at risk for anal HPV. Therefore anal cancer screening may be recommended in those women. Other risk factors include anal intercourse and immunosuppression (due to HIV or medications that weaken the immune system such as in transplant patients). Sometimes anal cancer can occur without HPV infection such as with chronic local inflammation due to chronic anal fistulas or open wounds, pelvic radiation, and smoking.
What are the symptoms of anal cancer?
Signs of anal cancer include anal pain, bleeding, a new lump or mass, discharge or drainage from the anus or change in your stool habits. Diagnosis can be delayed because symptoms may be attributed to hemorrhoids. Anal bleeding is never normal and should always be evaluated by your doctor. Make an appointment for a private consultation with Dr. Zaghiyan in her office in Los Angeles to discuss your symptoms.
How is anal cancer diagnosed?
Anal cancer may be suspected based on a mass or lump seen or felt on rectal exam in the office. If a mass is seen, then a thorough exam will be performed by Dr. Zaghiyan in the operating room under sedation to evaluate the size and location of the mass and to obtain a biopsy. Once the diagnosis is made, other tests including CT scan, PET scan, MRI or ultrasound may be recommended.
How is anal cancer treated?
Standard treatment for anal cancer includes chemotherapy and radiation. Routine follow up is important to assure resolution of the cancer. In some cases, surgery may be recommended for residual or recurrent anal cancer. If such a diagnosis is made, Dr. Zaghiyan will walk you through each step of the process with compassion and care. Do not wait to be evaluated. Early diagnosis and treatment is key for the best chance at cure.