Anal Cancer

Information you need about the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options for anal cancer.

Anal cancer is a disease where cancerous (malignant) cells grow in the tissues of the anus. Feces (stool) leaves the body through the anus. The anus is controlled by a group of muscles called the sphincter.

Our specialists diagnose and treat all stages of anal cancer with minimally invasive techniques.

Symptoms of anal cancer

Sometimes, people seek medical attention because of itching around the anus or blood in the stool. These symptoms are similar to those of hemorrhoids (swollen veins around the anus).

Other anal cancer symptoms include:

  • A lump or mass near the opening of the anus
  • Anal or rectal bleeding
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Discharge of mucus or pus from the anus
  • Narrowing of the stools
  • Pain or pressure in the anal area
  • Persistent itching
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin area

If you experience any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with a colorectal cancer specialist for an accurate diagnosis.

Risk factors for anal cancer

More than 7,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with anal cancer each year. It is the least common of the colorectal cancer types.

Risk factors for anal cancer include:

  • A weakened immune system, because of HIV, receiving a transplant, or having chemotherapy
  • Anal fistulas (abnormal openings between the anus and other organs)
  • Anal sex
  • Anal warts
  • Having had many sex partners
  • Infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Smoking cigarettes

Avoiding anal cancer screening also poses a risk. Regular screenings can help us detect it at an early stage when treatment is easier and more effective.

Anal cancer treatment at Henry Ford

Our rectal cancer specialists recommend treatment options based on your individual needs. Our team approach incorporates comprehensive care before, during, and after treatment.

We provide:

  • Advanced treatment options: We use targeted radiation treatments to kill tumors and spare healthy tissue.
  • Education and support: We prepare you for what to expect throughout your anal cancer treatment and recovery.
  • Innovative research and clinical trials: We offer patients access to clinical trials that feature emerging therapies not yet widely available.
  • Minimally invasive surgery: This technique uses fewer incisions and allows for quicker healing.

Surgery for anal cancer

For patients who have a small anal cancer near the anal opening (called anal margin cancers or carcinoma in situ), surgery often is the best solution.

Our range of anal tumor surgical treatments includes:

  • Robotic surgery: We are one of Michigan’s most active robotic surgery programs for anal cancer. Our surgeons have extensive experience in removing complex, hard-to-reach tumors. Henry Ford is one of only eight robotic surgery epicenters in the United States.
  • Surgery to treat fecal incontinence: Fecal incontinence (being unable to control stool) can happen during or after anal cancer surgery. We provide FDA-approved treatments to help you avoid this problem.

Chemotherapy and radiation

Depending on your individual condition, we may recommend surgery alone, or a combination of treatments. Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy in oral, injection, intravenous (IV), or topical form.

You also may need radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells with less damage to healthy tissue. Henry Ford is among the most experienced programs in the country for stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) -- we were the first in Michigan to use this technique.

We offer external beam radiation therapy for anal cancer. This procedure delivers radiation from a device outside the body.

Our radiation treatments include:

  • Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT): SBRT delivers a few beams of high-dose radiation to kill small tumors. Ours was one of the first centers in Michigan to use SBRT. Our specialists are the most experienced team in the state.
  • Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT): IGRT combines imaging with radiation treatment. We use CT (computed tomography) or X-ray to measure tumors precisely so we can minimize the amount of radiation that reaches normal cells.
  • 3-D conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT): Advanced imaging technology precisely targets radiation to the size and shape of your tumor to spare healthy tissue.
  • Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): This technique sends small “beamlets” of radiation that adapt to the three-dimensional size and shape of tumors.

Ostomy for anal cancer

An ostomy is an opening created through surgery to allow waste to be removed without passing through the colon, rectum, or anus. Instead, waste collects in a bag to be disposed of.

If you need a permanent or temporary ostomy, our nurse practitioner will meet with you privately to help you understand how to care for your ostomy and to answer your questions.

Newly diagnosed?

Contact the cancer team 24/7 by calling (888) 777-4167.

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