Anal cancer

Anal cancer is one of the rarest forms of cancer, affecting approximately just over 1,400 people annually in the UK. The disease tends to be more prevalent in women, and there are different types you need to be aware of.

Here, we look at the different types of anal cancer, and the main symptoms to watch out for.

What are the different types of anal cancer?

At around 4cm long, the anus makes up the end of the large bowel. Responsible for eliminating solid waste from the body, there are a variety of changes that can occur in the anus over time. While most of these changes are harmless, in some cases they can develop into cancer.

Different types of cancers can occur in the anus, including…

Squamous cell carcinomas

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of anal cancer. Developing in the cells that line the anal canal and edge of the anus, this type of cancer is known as Bowen’s disease in its early stages.

Adenocarcinomas

Approximately 20% of anal cancer cases relate to Adenocarcinomas. This develops in the glands of the anus. A type of Adenocarcinoma that occurs in the anus known as Paget’s Disease, can also impact the breasts, vulva, and surrounding areas of the body.

Rare types of anal cancer

In rare cases, patients may develop anal cancers such as gastrointestinal stromal tumours, and lymphomas.

Symptoms of anal cancer

While the symptoms of anal cancer vary between patients, there are some general signs to watch out for. The symptoms tend to be similar to those presented by other conditions such as haemorrhoids, and anal fissures.

The most common anal cancer symptoms to be aware of include:

  • A small lump that can be seen or felt around the anus
  • Severe constipation and difficulty passing stools
  • Itching or swelling around the anus
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Discharge from the anus
  • Pain around the anus

Rectal bleeding, pain, and a lump that can be felt or seen are the most common symptoms you may experience.

Risk factors and causes of anal cancer

The cause of most anal cancers isn’t known, but there are risk factors that may increase your likelihood of developing the disease. These include:

  • The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
  • A lowered immune response
  • HIV infection
  • A history of vaginal or cervical cancer
  • Smoking

If you have one or more of these risk factors, you should undergo regular cancer testing. This is especially true for patients over the age of 50.

Seeking a diagnosis early is critical to successful anal cancer treatment. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, book a consultation with Professor Jamie Murphy today. You can expect a thorough physical examination and possibly a blood test, after which you may be referred for a proctoscopy or colonoscopy.