Many anal cancers can be found early in the course of the disease. Early anal cancers often have signs and symptoms that lead people to see a doctor. Unfortunately, some anal cancers may not cause symptoms until they reach an advanced stage. Other anal cancers can cause symptoms like those of diseases other than cancer. This may delay their diagnosis.
Anal cancer is a type of cancer that begins at the opening of the rectum (also known as anus). This unusual form of cancer is overlooked by almost everyone due to the location of the affected area. Most people who have experienced the symptoms of anal cancer do not discuss it with neither their doctor nor the people they know due to embarrassment.
The odds that anal cancer can be found early depend on the location and type of the cancer. Cancers that begin higher up in the anal canal are less likely to cause symptoms and be found early. Anal melanomas tend to spread earlier than other cancers, making it harder to diagnose them early.
Anal cancer should not be confused with colorectal cancer. Whereas colorectal cancer affects the whole large intestine and the rectum, the anal cancer affects only the beginning of the rectum.
Each year, more than 8,000 Americans are diagnosed with anal cancer. It is expected that 1,000 of them will die from it. Statistically, one of every four people who suffer from anal cancer has been diagnosed after the disease has spread to lymph nodes, and one of every ten people has been diagnosed after it has spread to other organs. Although the cases of anal cancer are not as frequent like the other types of cancer such as colon, rectal, or colorectal cancer, the number of people who suffer from it has grown rapidly in the last decade.
The Symptoms of Anal Cancer!
It is very difficult to detect the presence of anal cancer in its earliest stages because most symptoms are not present during that time. However, as cancer progresses, it usually causes many different symptoms such as:
- Rectal bleeding
- Rectal itching
- A lump or mass at the anal opening
- Pain or a feeling of fullness in the anal area
- Narrowing of stool or other changes in bowel movements
- Abnormal discharge from the anus
- Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin areas
Most often these types of symptoms are more likely to be caused by benign (non-cancer) conditions, like hemorrhoids, anal fissures, or anal warts. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to have them checked by a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
The cause of anal cancer remains unclear in most cases, but still, there are many factors that can increase the risk of developing anal cancer, like frequent irritation of the anus, smoking, and a weakened immune system. People who are at higher risk of developing anal cancer are the ones who are older than 60 years. 80 percent of the cases have been detected in people who belong to this category. Men under 35 are at higher risk to develop this uncommon disease when compared women who belong to the same age category. However, after the age of 50, women are at higher risk of developing anal cancer.
How to Detect Anal Cancer Early?
Detecting anal cancer during its early stages is decisive in overcoming it. There are many procedures that can detect the presence of anal cancer. Here are some of them:
- Digital Rectal Exam – The doctor first looks at the outside of the anus to find out whether you have hemorrhoids or fissures. Then, he puts on a latex glove and inserts a lubricated finger into the rectum to search for lumps or any other abnormalities.
- Anoscopy – This is a method when a small, tubular instrument called an anoscope is inserted a few inches into the anus so the doctor can determine whether you have anal fissures, anal polyps, hemorrhoids, infection, or tumors. The doctor will perform this procedure only if he finds something abnormal during the digital rectal exam.
- Biopsies, ultrasounds, x-rays, CT scans, MRIs and PET scans are all procedures that can be used to detect the presence of anal cancer. However, all of these procedures are surrounded by controversies as a result of many studies which suggest that they either spread or cause cancer.