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Could you be at risk for anal cancer?

help with anal cancer | GI North | North Atlanta areaAs with other malignant diseases, early detection is an essential tool in treating cancers of the digestive tract. Fortunately, those portions of the digestive tract near the beginning and end can be more readily examined, making early detection for conditions such as anal cancer a real possibility. Understanding the risks for developing anal cancer can help make it clear why a visit to a gastroenterologist is a worthwhile and healthy habit.

Locating anal cancer

The anus is the final portion of the digestive tract where two ring-like sphincter muscles control the passage of solid waste from the body. Stool that has been stored in the rectum passes through the approximately 1½” anal canal before being released. As such, disorders of the anus or anal canal can cause symptoms during defecation. The anus is made of both skin and intestine, making conditions that affect both of these tissue-types relevant for the anus.

Risks for anal cancer

Risk factors increase the chance of getting cancer. Not everyone who develops cancer had specific risk factors nor does everyone with risk factors develop cancer. While this may inspire some to take chances with risk factors for cancer, a gamble on health is not a bet worth taking.

An important risk factor in the development of anal cancer is infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). This is the same virus that causes cervical cancer in women, placing women with cancer of the cervix at an increased risk for also developing cancer of the anus. HPV can also cause cancer of the vagina, vulva, penis and throat.

Any type of skin-to-skin contact with an infected area of the body can cause HPV to spread to other parts of one’s body or to another person. Due to the body sites HPV infects, sexual and intimate contact is an important source of HPV infection. Due to the associated increased risk for HPV infection, multiple sexual partners and receptive anal intercourse are important risk factors in the development of anal cancer. The risk is also increased by cigarette smoking, being age 50 or older, anal fistulas or frequent anal redness, swelling and soreness from any cause.

Symptoms of anal cancer

Some strains of HPV cause the formation of papillomas, i.e. warts, but the strains most often associated with causing cancer are also likely to have asymptomatic infection. The potential to remain asymptomatic until an advanced stage in cancer development makes regular screening tests even more important in detecting anal cancer early.

Some important symptoms of anal cancer include anal bleeding, itching and abnormal discharge. A lump or feeling of fullness in the anal area or swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin can also indicate anal cancer. Changes in bowel movements including narrowing of the stool can be another important symptom.

Assessing your risk

While knowing and reducing your risk factors is an important step in cancer prevention, only a clinical examination and other diagnostic tests for anal cancer can confirm the presence or absence of cancerous cells.

While intended to be informational, this article does not take the place of professional medical advice. If you have questions about your risk for anal cancer or other GI concerns, please contact Dr. Simon Cofrancesco and Dr. Sergio Quijano at GI North or another healthcare professional near you for more information.

GI North is the gastroenterology clinic led by Dr. Simon Cofrancesco and Dr. Sergio Quijano located in Cumming, GA. GI North is also proud to serve the surrounding areas of Alpharetta, Roswell, Canton, and Suwanee. For appointments in Spanish, please ask for Dr. Sergio Quijano.

© 2017 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

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