Anal Cancer

What is Anal Cancer?

Cancer is the growth of abnormal cells which can grow together to form masses called tumors. Anal cancer is a rare type of cancer that starts in the cells lining the anus, the short tube that connects the lower part of the large intestine to the outside of the body through which waste passes.

Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of anal cancer. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health

Signs and Symptoms

Anal cancer symptoms usually start subtly and can include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Anal pain
  • Anal itching
  • Change in bowel habits
  • A lump near the anus
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin


To determine if someone has anal cancer, we ask about medical history and do a physical exam, including a rectal exam. We also use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:

Anoscopy: In this procedure, a short, lubricated tube with a light is inserted into the anus to allow the physician to inspect the anus, anal canal and lower rectum

Biopsy: A sample is removed from the tissue or tumor for laboratory testing. Testing can tell the physician whether the tissue is cancerous. The sample of tissue can be taken using a needle or endoscope, a short, lubricated tube.

Endorectal ultrasound: In this procedure an ultrasound wand, which uses energy waves to create a picture, is inserted into the anus to identify tumors.

Imaging studies: X-rays, CT scans or MRIs may be done to look for tumors in the lining of the bowel.


Anal cancer causes can include:

  • Anal sex
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Many sexual partners
  • Smoking

Risk Factors

Risk factors that can contribute to anal cancer include:

Age: Anal cancer is rarely found in people under age 50.

Weakened immune system: People with a weakened immune system from medications prescribed after organ transplant or from HIV/AIDS, have a higher risk of developing anal cancer.


While some risk factors like age cannot be controlled, other factors can be controlled.

Don’t smoke: Smoking is a known cause of many cancers.

Practice safe sex: Safe sex using condoms can help prevent HPV and HIV, two sexually transmitted viruses that increase the risk of developing anal cancer.

Get vaccinated: Vaccinations can guard against HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can increase the risk of developing anal cancer.


Anal cancer prognosis depends upon how early the cancer is diagnosed and the size of the tumor. If diagnosed and treated early, the prognosis is good for patients with anal cancer.

Treatment and Recovery

Anal cancer treatment depends upon how far the condition has progressed and your overall health. Sometimes, multiple types of treatments are necessary, including:


Chemotherapy is often prescribed along with radiation therapy to treat anal cancer. Chemotherapy uses special drugs designed to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given as a pill or injected into the bloodstream. Chemotherapy is typically administered during week one and week five of the course of treatment.

Radiation therapy

Five or six weeks of radiation directed specifically to the anal area is often prescribed along with chemotherapy to treat anal cancer. Radiation therapy uses beams of high energy to kill cancer cells. Most often, radiation treatments are given five days a week.


Surgery can include removal of the anal tumor or total removal of the anal canal, rectum and a portion of the colon.

  • Tumor removal: In this procedure, the cancer tumor and a small amount of healthy tissue around it are removed, while preserving the anal sphincter muscles that control bowel movement.  
  • AP resection: In this procedure, the anal canal, rectum and a portion of the colon are removed. The remaining colon is reattached to an opening in the abdomen. Waste leaves the body and collects in a plastic (colostomy) bag.

Recovery After Surgery

Depending upon how your body heals, you will be in the hospital three to five days after an AP resection and should be able to return to normal activities four to eight weeks after surgery.


Anal cancer can spread to the liver and lungs and if it does, it can be very difficult to treat.

Next Steps with MyChart

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