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Anal Cancer

Anal cancer is rare and, if caught early, usually curable. Most anal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas that grow on the skin lining the inside of the anus (the end of your large intestine, where stool passes out of your body).

These are some common symptoms of anal cancer:

  • Bleeding from the rectum or anus
  • A lump or mass at the anus
  • Pain in the anal area
  • Persistent or recurrent itching
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Discharge (mucus or pus) from the anus
  • Stools that are narrower than normal

Most of the time, having these symptoms doesn’t mean you have anal cancer. Many other conditions have similar symptoms. See a doctor if you have any of these symptoms and it doesn’t go away.

Anal cancer: what you should know

  • Though anal cancer is uncommon, some people have a higher risk than the general population:
    • People who have human papilloma virus (HPV)
    • Men and women who practice anal sex or have multiple sexual partners (which may increase the risk of becoming infected with HPV)
    • People with weakened immune systems, such organ transplant recipients taking drugs to suppress their immune systems or people with HIV
    • Smokers and people older than 50
    • People with anal fistulas or frequent anal soreness or swelling
  • If you suspect or have been told that you have a high risk of anal cancer, your doctor can help determine whether you need the following screening tests:
    • Digital rectal exam, during which a clinician uses a finger to examine your rectum
    • High-resolution anoscopy, a special test that allows doctors to examine the lining of the anal canal for cancer or changes that could lead to cancer

How can I get help for anal cancer?

Most of the time, having these symptoms doesn’t mean you have anal cancer. Many other conditions have similar symptoms. See a doctor if you have any of these symptoms and it doesn’t go away.

If you are diagnosed with anal cancer, your doctor will likely refer to you a specialist in gastrointestinal cancers who can confirm the diagnosis and determine the stage and extent of the disease.

Care for anal cancer at Rush

The kind of treatment you need will depend on the type and stage of your cancer, as well as your overall health and any other conditions you may have. Doctors at Rush work with patients — and with each other — to determine the best course of treatment, and they welcome patients seeking second opinions.

Your care at Rush will likely involve one or more the following:

  • Surgery: If anal cancer is small and caught before it has spread, surgery can often remove it completely. Whenever possible, colorectal surgeons at Rush use minimally invasive techniques that involve only small incisions. These techniques can lead to faster recovery and less pain.
  • Chemotherapy: Rush offers the latest cancer-fighting drugs.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation oncologists at Rush use advanced technologies that target the cancer with high doses of radiation while protecting surrounding tissue.
  • Complementary therapies: Rush offers massage, acupuncture and other therapies to help you cope with pain, loss of energy and other challenges related to anal cancer.

Why choose Rush for anal cancer care

  • U.S. News & World Report ranks Rush program among the best hospitals in the country for cancer care.
  • Colorectal surgeons at Rush have helped pioneer minimally invasive surgical techniques. These techniques, which involve smaller incisions, can lead to less pain and shorter recovery times
  • Many patients receive care at the Rush University Cancer Center’s Coleman Foundation Gastrointestinal Comprehensive Clinic for Gastrointestinal Cancers, where specialists combine their expertise to consider all the options and create a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s needs.
  • The Rush University Cancer Center has been awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. Rush has received this award, which is given every three years, each time it has been evaluated by the Commission on Cancer.
  • The Rush University Cancer Center is a hub of cancer research. Doctors and researchers at Rush are enrolling patients in trials of drugs and other treatments that might not be widely available.

Departments and programs that treat this condition