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Anal Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Posted on- Aug 28, 2015
  • 556 Views

Anal cancer refers to an irregular development of cells in or around the anus or anal canal. The anal canal is a short tube at the end of your rectum through which bowel movements pass. The most common type of anal cancer is related to a type of viral infection linked to causing other types of cancers as well. Anal cancer is also termed as “squamous cell carcinoma.” Some uncommon cancers can also occur in the anal canal like gastrointestinal stromal tumors and melanoma. Cancer cells can also develop in the skin or just outside the anus. This condition is known as perianal or anal margin.

Symptoms associated with anal cancer

Some patients of anal cancer may not have any symptoms because they form in the digestive tract where doctor can reach and view easily. But in most cases, symptoms don’t become evident until the cancer has grown. So it is crucial to track the signs of anal cancer. Some of the symptoms of anal cancer include:

  • Bleeding from the rectum or anus
  • The feeling of a lump or mass at the anal opening
  • Recurring pain in the anal area
  • Persistent itching
  • Change in bowel habits or increased straining during a bowel movement
  • Narrowing of the stools
  • Discharge or drainage (mucous or pus) from the anus
  • Swollen lymph nodes (glands) or pain in the anal or groin areas

Tests and diagnosis for anal cancer

Tests and procedures used to diagnose anal cancer include:
  • Examination of your anal canal and rectum for any irregularities: During an examination, your doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum to feel for anything unusual, such as growths.
  • Visual inspection of your anal canal and rectum: Your doctor may use a lighted tube to visually inspect your anal canal and rectum for anything suspicious.
  • Taking a sample tissue for lab testing: If your doctor finds any strange areas, he or she may take samples of affected tissue and send them to a lab for further examination. With the help of a microscope, doctors can gauge if the cells are cancerous.

Available treatments for anal cancer

In most of the cases, treatment for anal cancer is very effective in curing the cancer. There are 3 different kinds of treatment used for anal cancer:
  • Surgery: It is the process where an operation is done to remove the cancer. Sporadically, an early tumor may be surgically removed without further treatment and less damage to the anal sphincter muscles that are important for bowel control. In certain cases, major surgery is required to remove the anal cancer and this may involve removal of the anus and rectum and the muscles that are necessary for bowel control, with creation of a permanent colostomy.
  • Radiation Therapy: Radiation Therapy involves giving X-rays to kill the cancer cells. Anal cancer is a type of cancer that responds well to this type of treatment along with chemotherapy. In normal circumstances, the cancer is treated and destruction of any possible cancer cells that may have spread to the lymph nodes in that region. Complications from radiation may include skin damage, anal or rectal ulcers, diarrhea, incontinence, bladder inflammation and more.
  • Chemotherapy: In Chemotherapy, medicines are given intravenously to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is proven to be beneficial along with the use of radiation. This combination improves the likelihood of avoiding the need for surgery for anal cancer. These medications have some side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, lung inflammation etc.

Follow-up consultation to analyze the results of treatment and check for recurrence is very important. Some cancers that recur despite treatment may be successfully treated with surgery if they are caught early, so patients are encouraged to report any concerning symptoms right away.

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