Anal cancer is cancer of the anus. This is the canal at the end of the large intestine, below the rectum.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body (in this case the cells that cover the lumen of the anus) divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to
malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. A
does not invade or spread.
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Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
, drugs are used to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs travel through the bloodstream throughout the body to kill mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells. In the management of anal cancer, chemotherapy is given by vein, usually every three weeks during the course of daily radiation therapy.
is often delivered at the same time as chemotherapy. Compared to surgery, a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy can increase the survival rate.
In some cases, radiation therapy alone may be used if chemotherapy is thought to result in too many side effects (eg, in patients with HIV). In the treatment of anal cancer, radiation is delivered externally on a daily basis over 5-6 weeks.
Since radiation therapy damages healthy tissue as well as cancer cells, there are certain side effects associated with radiation therapy for the treatment of anal cancer. Scar tissue may form in the anus, keeping the anal sphincter from working properly. In addition, damage may occur that results in chronic rectal bleeding.
Because of the location of the anus, an invasive cancer requires an abdominoperineal resection (APR). This surgery results in the formation of a permanent colostomy or bag. It is only considered if the cancer comes back after chemotherapy and radiation, or if radiation cannot be done for some reason.
There are no known ways of avoiding anal cancer. You may be able to reduce your risk of anal cancer, though, by reducing your exposure to HIV and HPV. There is a
available, called Gardasil, that protects against four types of HPV.