Anal cancer is quite rare. Between 850- 1,000 people are diagnosed with anal cancer each year in the UK, affecting slightly more women than men.
The anus is the opening at the end of the colon (large bowel). It is a tube approximately 3 cm long and controlled by the sphincter muscles to allow for stools (faeces) to pass through as you empty your bowels.
This area is also called the anal canal and connects to the end of your rectum.
Signs and symptoms
The most common symptoms of anal cancer include:
- bleeding from the anus and/or rectum
- small lumps around the anus
- difficulty controlling your bowel movements (faecal incontinence)
- pain, discomfort and itching in the rectal area
- Mucus discharge from the anus
Anal cancer is closely linked to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection. An increased number of sexual partners is a risk factor as HPV is transmitted this way. Also, those who practice anal intercourse are more likely to develop anal cancer as they have an increased chance of getting anal HPV. Cigarette smoking has also been shown to increase the risk of anal cancer.
Treatment and cure
Treatment for anal cancer can take the form of radiotherapy, radiation, chemotherapy or surgery. How doctors decide to treat the cancer depends on four crucial elements: the stage of the cancer; which part of the anus the cancer is growing; whether the cancer has spread and the general health of the patient.
There are several ongoing research studies into how to advance the cure and treatment of anal cancer. More people are living for much longer thanks to medical research. But, with around 900 people being diagnosed annually with anal cancer, more needs to be done.