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Anal Cancer

Anal cancer is a rare form of cancer that affects around 1,300 people in the UK each year.

What is anal cancer?

Anal cancer happens in your anal canal, a short tube at the bottom of your rectum.

It tends to start as small, benign cells that develop in your anus. Some of these cells can become cancerous, multiplying and causing anal cancer.

What are the symptoms of anal cancer?

You may not experience any symptoms, but if you do, common symptoms of anal cancer include:

  • Pain around your anus
  • Anal / rectal bleeding
  • Itching around the anus
  • A growth in your anal canal
  • Mucus discharge from the anus
  • Bowel incontinence (when you lose control of your bowels)

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor.

What causes anal cancer?

Anal cancer and the sexually transmitted disease HPV are closely linked and it’s believed HPV is the most common cause of it.

There are certain other risk factors that make you more likely to get it, such as:

  • Having many sexual partners
  • Taking part in anal sex
  • Your age – those over 50 are more likely to get it
  • Smoking
  • Having certain other cancers – namely cervical, vulvar or vaginal cancer
  • Following radiation therapy for other cancers
  • Taking certain medications – particularly immunosuppressive drugs
  • Your gender – you’re more likely to get it if you’re female

How is anal cancer diagnosed?

If you’re experiencing symptoms you think might be caused by anal cancer, see your doctor. To help make a diagnosis, your doctor will ask you about your medical history and symptoms, and may refer you for blood tests, an anoscopy or digital rectal exam.

How is anal cancer treated?

Treatment options vary individual by individual. Your treatment depends on a range of factors, such as the stage the cancer is at, your own wishes and your health profile.

In most cases, you’ll be treated with a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

If your anal cancer is at an early stage and the tumours are small, your surgeon will do a local excision, removing the tumour and a bit of surrounding tissue.

If you don’t respond well to chemotherapy o radiotherapy and your cancer is more aggressive, you may be recommended a surgery called an abdominoperineal resection (or AP resection). Your anal canal and rectum are removed, and part of your colon.

If this still doesn’t help, immunotherapy or palliative care are options. Your doctor will discuss your options with you in detail and recommend what they think is the best option.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Mr James Kinross  ›

Mr James Kinross is a consultant colorectal surgeon at King Edward VII’s Hospital.

Find your specialist in anal cancer at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you suspect you have anal cancer and you’re seeking an expert opinion, you can find the UK’s leading colorectal specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Mr Ian Jenkins  ›
Special interests include:
Colorectal surgery (+ 7) more
Mr James Kinross  ›
Special interests include:
Colorectal cancer (+ 9) more

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