Colon & Rectal Cancer in Reno
Anal cancer is also called anal squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer in many ways resembles a type of skin cancer because it derives from the squamous cells, or “skin-like” cells of the anus. Like other cancers, the problem occurs when genetic mutations in these squamous cells lead to uncontrolled growth of the cells. Eventually a mass forms and the cells invade surrounding tissues and in some cases spread to other parts of the body.
Anal squamous cell cancer generally begins with subtle symptoms such as anal itching or bleeding and is diagnosed by a biopsy of the anal tissue. While it is much less common than colorectal cancer, it still afflicts over 2,500 people annually in the U.S., including more than 1,000 women. It is most common in people over 60 years old, but it can occur in young adults as well. If a biopsy does demonstrate anal squamous cell carcinoma, the treatment generally involves chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Today a protocol of combined chemotherapy and radiation has a high chance of curing the cancer successfully and completely without major surgery. In a minority of cases if the cancer is not cured or fails to resolve there may be surgery required.
Relationship Between HPV and Rectal Cancer
Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV, has been in the news a lot because it is now widely recognized as a causal link to cervical cancer, throat cancer, and anal cancer. The virus is spread through sexual contact or in some cases nonsexual direct contact, and virus subtype 16 is most closely associated with anal cancer. Because about 90% of anal cancers arise from HPV infection, many authorities believe it may be preventable with use of the HPV vaccine before exposure to the virus has occurred.
When to see a doctor
Any bleeding from the rectum deserves investigation to determine its cause. Additionally, symptoms such as itching and irritation which do not resolve on their own should prompt a visit to the doctor. Any mass or lump in the anal region should warrant an immediate visit to the doctor. Simple tests can determine the cause of these symptoms and exclude an anal cancer. Individuals at high risk, such as those with immunosuppression, HIV disease and known HPV exposure can undergo screening tests with a simple office swab and cell analysis.
The good news
The good news is that anal carcinoma was once a deadly disease that was only curable through major surgery and often required a permanent colostomy. Today, screening methods improve early detection and a cure is usually achieved without surgery, utilizing combined chemotherapy and radiation.