Many anal cancers can be discovered in the early stages, as anal cancer manifests through various symptoms. But, there are some types of anal cancers that do not manifest any kind of symptoms, so they’re usually discovered in the advanced stage. Some anal cancers can manifest through symptoms that are more likely for other diseases, so patients are often misdiagnosed.
Anal cancer begins at the opening of the rectum (also known as the anus). Many overlook it because of the location of the affected area, and most people dealing with anal cancer symptoms avoid discussing them with the doctor because it is uncomfortable for them to talk about it.
The chance of early diagnosis depends on the type and location of the anal cancer. Those that form higher up in the anal canal are less likely to cause symptoms and be found early. Anal melanomas tend to spread earlier than other cancers, making it harder to diagnose them early.
It is also important not to confuse anal and colorectal cancer, as colorectal cancer affects the whole large intestine and the rectum, while the anal cancer affects only the beginning of the rectum.
Every year, more than 8,000 Americans are diagnosed with anal cancer. It is estimated that 1,000 of them will die from it. Statistics show that one of every four people who suffer from anal cancer has been diagnosed after the disease has spread to lymph nodes, and one of every ten people has been diagnosed after it has spread to other organs.
Even though the cases of anal cancer are not as frequent like the other types of cancer such as colon, rectal, or colorectal cancer, the number of people who suffer from it has grown rapidly in the last decade.
Some of the anal cancer signs include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Rectal itching
- A lump or mass at the anal opening
- Pain or a feeling of fullness in the anal area
- Narrowing of stool or other changes in bowel movements
- Abnormal discharge from the anus
- Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin areas
Very often these types of symptoms are more likely to be caused by benign (non-cancer) conditions, like hemorrhoids, anal fissures, or anal warts. But, this doesn’t mean that you should overlook them; on the contrary, you must visit a doctor immediately to set a precise diagnosis.
Although the exact reason for anal cancer is uncertain, there are some factors that contribute in developing, such as frequent irritation of the anus, smoking, and a weakened immune system. People that are over the age of 60 are also at higher risk, as 80 percent of the cases have been detected in people who belong to this category. Men under 35 are at higher risk to develop this uncommon disease when compared women who belong to the same age category. But, after the age of 50, women are at higher risk of developing anal cancer.
Ways to detect anal cancer
- Digital Rectal Exam– this involves examination of the outside of the anus to find out whether you have hemorrhoids or fissures. Then, the doctor puts on a latex glove and inserts a lubricated finger into the rectum to search for lumps or any other abnormalities.
- Anoscopy– this method involves a a small, tubular instrument called an anoscope being inserted a few inches into the anus so the doctor can determine whether you have anal fissures, anal polyps, hemorrhoids, infection, or tumors. This procedure is preformed only if the doctor finds something abnormal during the digital rectal exam.
- Biopsies, ultrasounds, x-rays, CT scans, MRIs and PET scans– these are all procedures that can be used to detect the presence of anal cancer. But, there are lot of controversies surrounding them, because many studies suggest that they either spread or cause cancer.