Symptoms of anal cancer
Symptoms of anal cancer can include:
- bleeding from the bottom (rectal bleeding)
- itching and pain around the anus
- small lumps around the anus
- a discharge of mucus from the anus
- loss of bowel control (bowel incontinence)
Some people with anal cancer don't have any symptoms.
When to see your GP
See your GP if you develop any of the symptoms above. While they're unlikely to be caused by anal cancer, it's best to get them checked out.
Your GP will usually ask about your symptoms and carry out some examinations.
They may feel your tummy and carry out a rectal examination. This involves your doctor inserting a gloved finger into your bottom so they can feel any abnormalities.
Your GP will refer you to hospital if they think further tests are necessary.
Causes of anal cancer
The exact cause of anal cancer is unknown, although a number of factors can increase your risk of developing the condition. These include:
- infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) – a common and usually harmless group of viruses spread through sexual contact, which can affect the moist membranes lining your body
- having anal sex or lots of sexual partners – possibly because this increases your risk of developing HPV infection
- having a history of cervical, vaginal or vulval cancer
- having a weakened immune system – for example, if you have HIV
Your risk of developing anal cancer increases as you get older, with half of all cases diagnosed in people aged 65 or over. The condition is also slightly more common in women than men.
Treatment for anal cancer
If you are diagnosed with anal cancer, the health professional looking after your care will discuss treatment options with you.
The main treatments used for anal cancer are:
- chemoradiation – a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- surgery – to remove a tumour or a larger section of bowel
In cases where the cancer has spread and can't be cured, chemotherapy alone may be considered to help relieve symptoms. This is known as palliative care.
The outlook for anal cancer depends on how advanced the condition is when it's diagnosed. The earlier it's diagnosed, the better the outlook.
Compared with many other types of cancer, the outlook for anal cancer is generally better because treatment is often very effective.
In the UK, about 66 out of 100 people with anal cancer will live at least five years after diagnosis, and many will live much longer than this.