Anal cancer

Anal cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the anus.The anus is where your bowel connects to the outside of your body (the bottom).Anal cancer can start in any part of the anus.How serious anal cancer is depends on where it starts, how big it is, if it spreads and your general health.

Main symptoms of anal cancer

Symptoms of anal cancer can include:

  • bleeding from the bottom
  • itching and pain around the anus
  • small lumps around and inside the bottom
  • a discharge of mucus from the bottom
  • having problems controlling when you poo (bowel incontinence)
  • needing to poo often with looser, runnier poos

Anal cancer may have no symptoms at all, or they might be hard to spot.

Anal cancer symptoms are often similar to piles (haemorrhoids) and anal fissures, which are common and less serious conditions.

What happens at the GP appointment

The GP will ask you some questions about your health and your symptoms.

They may feel your tummy and insert a gloved finger into your bottom to feel for lumps or anything wrong.

After the GP examines you, they may refer you to see a specialist in hospital if they think more tests are needed.

You’ll receive an appointment, usually within 2 weeks, if you have certain symptoms. This does not definitely mean you have cancer.

Who is more likely to get anal cancer

Most anal cancers are caused by an infection called human papillomavirus (HPV).

You can get HPV from:

  • any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area
  • vaginal, anal or oral sex
  • sharing sex toys

Anal cancer is rare. Most people affected by HPV will not develop cancer.

You may be more likely to get anal cancer if you:

  • have anal sex
  • are over the age of 75
  • smoke
  • have had cervical or vaginal cancer
  • have a weakened immune system, such as from HIV or an organ transplant

How to reduce your risk of getting anal cancer

You cannot always prevent anal cancer. HPV vaccination is one of the best ways to protect against anal cancer.

All children aged 12 to 13 are offered the HPV vaccine. It helps protect against cancers caused by HPV, as well as genital warts.

There are also healthy changes you can make to lower your chances of getting anal cancer.

Main tests for anal cancer

You might have some tests and scans to check for anal cancer if a GP refers you to a specialist.

The tests you have will depend on your symptoms.

The tests may include:

  • putting a thin tube with a camera and light into your bottom to check for any changes
  • taking a small sample from your anus (biopsy) so it can be looked at in a laboratory under a microscope
  • blood tests

Getting your results

You should get the results of your tests within a few weeks

Try not to worry if your results are taking longer than you expected. You can call the hospital or GP if you’re worried. They should be able to update you.

A specialist will explain what the results mean and what will happen next. You may want to bring someone with you for support.

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