Anal cancer

Anal (bottom) cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the very end of the large bowel. See your GP if you develop any of the symptoms below. While they're unlikely to be caused by anal cancer, it's best to get them checked out.

Symptoms of anal cancer

The symptoms of anal cancer are often similar to more common conditions affecting the anus, such as piles (haemorrhoids) and anal fissures (small tears or sores).

Symptoms of anal cancer can include:

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
  • smoking
  • 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.

Outlook

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.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published May 2018

This page is due for review May 2019

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