How anal cancer can affect your health?
Anal cancer is a rare malignant tumor that starts in the anus (the opening at the end of the rectum). The American Society of Clinical Oncology estimates that 9,370 cases of anal cancer will be diagnosed in 2019, and about 1,250 deaths from the anus that year. In contrast, in the United States, about 155,250 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2020, and it’s estimated that approximately 55,000 people will die from the disease in the same year. Nearly half of all anal cancers are diagnosed before the malignant tumor has spread. Beyond the primary site, 23% to 29% are diagnosed after cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, and 10% to spread to distant organs.
Signs and symptoms of anal cancer include:
- Bleeding from the anus or rectum
- Pain in the anus area
- Anal canal mass or growth
- itching in the anus
- Extraordinary discharges from the anus
- Clot near the anus
- Change in bowel addictions
The treatment you receive for anal cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, your general health, and your preferences.
Combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy
Doctors usually treat anal cancer with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Together, these two treatments reinforce each other and increase the chances of recovery.
- Chemical treatment. Chemotherapy drugs are injected intravenously or taken as tablets. The chemicals circulate throughout the body and kill rapidly growing cells such as cancer cells. Unfortunately, they also damage fast-growing healthy cells such as the gastrointestinal tract and hair follicles. This causes side effects such as nausea, vomiting and hair loss.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses powerful rays such as x-rays and protons to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table and a large machine moves around you, targeting your cancer with a beam of radiation directed at a specific area of your body.
Doctors often use different procedures to get rid of anal cancer based on the stage of the cancer.
Surgery to remove early-stage anal cancer. Very small anal cancer can be surgically removed. During this procedure, the surgeon removes the tumor and a small amount of healthy tissue surrounding it.
Because the tumor is small, it may be possible to get rid of the cancer early without damaging the anal sphincter that surrounds the anal canal. The anal sphincter controls defecation, so doctors work to keep the muscle intact.
For some cancers, doctors may recommend chemotherapy and radiation therapy after surgery.
Anal cancer is a rare cancer and the role of biomarkers in the space remains largely exploratory, according to Cathy Eng, MD, FACP, FASCO, who spoke on the issue during the World Congress on Gastrointestinal Cancers 2021. Read more about it on Targeted Oncology.
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