Woman with anal cancer would rather it was more well-known
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According to the American Cancer Society, itchiness felt inside or around the rectum is an “important symptom of anal cancer”. Another sensation indicative of a growing tumour is “pain or a feeling of fullness in the anal area”. The third sensation you need to be on tenterhooks about is feeling “a lump or mass at the anal opening”. Other clues of anal cancer include:
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Narrowing of stool or other changes in bowel movements
- Abnormal discharge from the anus
- Incontinence of stool (loss of bowel control)
- Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin areas.
These symptoms might also be attributed to benign (non-cancerous) conditions, such as:
- Anal fissures
- Anal warts.
The fact about anal cancer
According to the latest statistics from Cancer Research UK, there are around 1,500 new anal cancer cased each year in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The anal canal is part of the large bowel that opens to the outside of the body.
It’s the tube that faeces pass through when you go to the toilet to empty your bowels.
It may surprise you, but the anal canal is only 3cm in length, made up of the:
- Transitional zone (where the rectum meets the anal canal)
- Anal canal (which connects the rectum to the anus)
- Anal margin (the lower part of the anal canal that contain muscles called the anal sphincters).
“The cell type and position of your cancer can affect what treatment you have,” the charity stated.
Cancerous cells can begin to multiply in the anal transitional zone, canal, or margin.
Notably, cancers within the margin area are more common in men than women.
Furthermore, women are more likely to develop cancerous cells higher up in the anal canal.
Most anal cancers begin in the squamous cells that line the anal canal.
Less common, but still a possibility, is the cancer forming in the glandular cells.
The glandular cells create the mucus that helps faeces to pass through the anus.
More rare is for cancer cells to start in the melanocytes (i.e. skin cells).
Risk factors with anal cancer
As with any type of cancer, older age increases the risk of developing anal cancer.
“The main risk factor for anal cancer is human papilloma virus (HPV) infection,” said Cancer Research UK.
“HPV is linked to around 90 out of 100 cases (90 percent) of anal cancer in the UK.”
However, it’s completely normal for the majority of people to have HPV at some point during their lifetime, the charity reassured – so what else puts you at risk of anal cancer?
Smoking, having HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), and a history of cervical, vaginal or vulval cancer increases your risk of the disease.
There is no national screening for anal cancer in the UK because the condition is considered rare.
Thus, the overall benefits of national screening don’t seem to outweigh the costs.
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