About Anal Cancer
Cancerous growths can develop almost anywhere along the body, including the large intestinal tract (colon), the rectum, or the anus. Anal cancer is among one of the rarest forms of cancer, but it still claims the lives of over 1,000 Americans annually. The anus is located below the rectum where stool is expelled from the body. Anal cancer occurs when cancerous (malignant) cells form in the tissues of the anus and create a tumor. If left untreated, these malignant cells will multiply, causing the tumor to grow in size and cancer to spread throughout to other areas.
This disease occurs in five stages (0, I, II, III, and IV), depending on the size of the tumor and whether or not cancer has traveled beyond the anal tissues. While it develops more often in women, men are also susceptible to this condition. When caught early, most cases of anal cancer can be treated with radiation or chemotherapy treatments. If you suspect that you may have anal cancer, or if you would like to schedule a preventive exam, such as a colonoscopy, to ensure that your anorectal region is in good health, contact Houston Colon and Rectal Surgery and schedule a consultation with one of our colorectal specialists.
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Signs and Symptoms
There are a number of symptoms associated with anal cancer. However, many of the signs of this condition are present with a number of anal, colon, or rectal issues so it's important to receive an evaluation and diagnosis immediately if you notice any of these occurrences. Some symptoms you might experience if you are suffering from anal cancer are:
- Anal pain
- Rectal bleeding
- A change in bowel habits
- Narrower stool
- Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin areas
- Anal discharge
- Anal itching
- A mass or growth in the anal canal
Patients who are of older age, have a history of cancer, smoke, engage in anal sex, or have certain autoimmune disorders caused by illness or behavioral habits may be at a higher risk to develop anal cancer. Due to the connections between human papillomavirus (HPV) and anal cancer, the disease tends to develop more often in women than in men.
When you visit Houston Colon and Rectal Surgery with signs of anal cancer, one of our skilled colorectal surgeons will begin your appointment by assessing your medical history and performing a physical evaluation. During the physical, the anus will be examined carefully for any lumps or abnormalities in the anal canal. From there, your specialist will perform an anoscopy to examine the anal canal digitally. Anoscopy uses a small, lighted scope to provide an internal view of the anus. We may then biopsy tissue and send the sample out so it can be tested for malignant cells. Depending on what stage your cancer may be in, you may also undergo an MRI scan, CT scan, chest x-ray, or pelvic exam to determine if the cancerous cells have spread beyond the anal cavity to other areas of the body.
While anal cancer is a serious disease that could put your life at risk, the good news is that early diagnosis is possible and incredibly helpful for your long-term health. Anal cancer can be detected during a colonoscopy or any other colorectal or anorectal exam. The most common treatments for patients with anal cancer are radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery with radiation and chemotherapy being used in the majority of cases.
- Radiation therapy for anal cancer utilizes high-energy x-rays or other radiation-producing technologies to eliminate cancer cells or prevent them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy: internal and external. Internal radiation therapy uses needles or catheters to transmit a substance directly into or near the cancerous area while external therapy uses machines outside of the body to address the malignant cells.
- Chemotherapy uses medication to prevent the growth of cancer cells or to kill them entirely. Chemotherapy can be administered orally or intravenously. The method chosen for you will depend on how far along your cancer is.
- Local resection is a surgery that can be performed to remove the cancerous tumor, along with some surrounding healthy tissue. This type of surgery is better suited for patients with smaller areas of cancer that have not spread anywhere else. It's also helpful for patients whose cancer exists near the end of the anal canal.
- Abdominoperineal resection, or a colostomy, could be performed when cancer has spread beyond the anal cavity or rectum and into the colon. During a colostomy, the anus, rectum, and a portion of the colon are removed. The large intestine is then attached to an opening called a stoma where waste will collect outside of the body. This type of anal cancer treatment is typically not required and only considered when radiation and chemotherapy have failed.
ANAL CANCER TREATMENT
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is never positive news. However, with prompt, compassionate care and effective techniques, our skilled team of board-certified surgeons can manage or eliminate your anal cancer. Houston Colon and Rectal Surgery is one of a few practices throughout North Houston and West Houston, TX that features colorectal specialists with years of experience treating cancer in the anus, rectum, and large intestine. Contact our office today to keep your overall health in track and put cancer at bay.