Anal cancer is a rare form of cancer, affecting roughly 1,200 people each year in the UK.
The risk of developing the disease increases as a person ages. It’s also more likely to occur if you have HPV (human papilloma virus) - nine in 10 cases are linked to the virus.
Here, we highlight the warning signs of anal cancer, as well as a brief overview of the diagnosis process and treatment options available.
Symptoms of anal cancer
One in five people diagnosed with anal cancer do not experience any symptoms, according to Cancer Research UK. That said, there are key symptoms to look out for such as:
1. Bleeding from the back passage or noticing blood in your poo.
2. Pain around the anal area.
3. A small lump (or lumps) around the anus.
4. Severe itching in the area around your anus.
5. Discharge of mucus from your back passage.
6. Changes in bowel movements, such as not being able to control them.
7. Ulcers around the anus which spread to the buttocks.
It’s worth noting that some of these symptoms could also be associated with health problems, such as piles. But it’s still really important to have them checked out by a GP.
John Newlands, senior cancer information nurse at Macmillan Cancer Support, told HuffPost UK: “Many people are embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing this part of the body, but remember that cancers caught early are far more likely to be cured.
“It’s also not unusual for doctors to examine the anus and back passage, so they will help put you at ease.”
If your GP thinks you might have anal cancer, they will refer you to hospital to have more tests.
“The main test used to diagnose anal cancer is a proctoscopy,” explained Newlands.
“A doctor or nurse puts a thin tube into the back passage. They can then see the area closely using a tiny light and camera on the end of the tube.”
Medical staff may also take a small sample of cells to test for cancer.
The main type of treatment for anal cancer is a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, however surgery may also be required.
Newlands explained: “Surgery may be used to treat small tumours or tumours that aren’t cured using these treatments.
“In more advanced cases, doctors will need to remove the anus and rectum and form a colostomy.”
He concluded: “As anal cancer is uncommon and because it affects an intimate area, those who have it often feel embarrassed and unable to talk about it to friends and family.
“Practical help, information and emotional support is available free from the Macmillan Cancer Support line on 0808 808 00 00 - or by visiting www.macmillan.org.uk.”