A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reveals some alarming results about the most common anal cancer. Cases of squamous cell carcinoma of the anus (SCCA) have been increasing since at least the early 2000s.
Once considered a rare cause of death, SCCA is becoming a real threat for people of certain age groups, ethnicities, and pre-existing health conditions.
8. What Is SCCA?
Squamous cell carcinoma is a form of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma of the anus (SCCA) usually forms on the inner lining of the anal canal connecting the rectum to the anus.
According to the study, cases of squamous cell carcinoma of the anus increased by 2.7% between 2001 and 2015. During the same time span, deaths from this type of anal cancer rose by 3.1%.
7. Who Has the Highest Cancer Risk?
Older white people over 50 and younger black men born after 1986 seem to have the highest risk of contracting SCCA, claim the study authors. “Compared with adults born circa 1946, recently born black men (born circa 1986) had a nearly fivefold higher risk of SCCA, and the risk doubled among white men and white women born after circa 1960.”
Younger black men may be at higher risk due to higher cases of HIV. Older white women are at higher risk due to higher cases of HPV.
6. Anal Cancer and HPV
A major pre-existing health condition of anal cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). In fact, most anal cancers can be directly linked to this sexually transmitted disease. Up to 91% of new anal cancer diagnoses per year occur in people diagnosed with HPV.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “It is estimated that about 4,700 new cases of HPV-associated anal cancers are diagnosed in women and about 2,300 are diagnosed in men each year in the United States.”
5. Lack of Public Knowledge About HPV
A study of public awareness about HPV risks published in the journal of JAMA Pediatrics showed that 75% of Americans surveyed weren’t aware of the cancer risks of HPV or that a vaccine was available.
A good source for more information about HPV is an online “fact sheet” provided by the CDC. Part of this information notes that “in most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. When HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer.”
4. 3 Anal Cancer Warning Signs
Cases of anal cancer might be rising rapidly because people don’t know of or are ignoring the symptoms. Three common signs of anal cancer to watch for are anal pain, blood in the stool, and rectal bleeding. If you have any of these symptoms, ask your doctor for an evaluation.
Some people mistake rectal bleeding related to anal cancer as harmless bleeding from hemorrhoids. When in doubt, have your doctor take a look. The best way to survive anal cancer is to detect and treat it as early as possible.
3. How Is Anal Cancer Diagnosed?
One way early-stage anal cancer can be found by a doctor is through a digital rectal exam (DRE). In this test, a doctor feels inside the anus with a gloved and lubricated finger, detecting changes in the skin.
This type of anal testing is usually conducted by a general physician or a gynecologist. Women can have this testing done along with their routine pelvic exams. If HPV is discovered during a pelvic exam, an anal pap test will likely follow where cells from the lining of the anus are swabbed and sent to a lab for further analysis.
2. Common Treatments
Treatment options for anal cancer depend on the stage the cancer is in when diagnosed. Common treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery. Newer treatments still being tested include immunotherapy (suppressing the immune system for a stronger immune response) and radiosensitizers (drugs used to enhance radiation therapy results).
Diet and lifestyle changes are also important for the treatment of anal cancer, as is getting consistent restorative sleep and stress relief. Vitamins and herbal supplements might also be beneficial as part of a personalized healing plan. Nutritionists and health coaches could help provide extra guidance and support.
1. How to Prevent Anal Cancer
Taking steps now to prevent developing anal cancer calls for an assessment of your diet, general lifestyle practices, and safe sex practices. Adopting a whole foods diet and eliminating as many processed foods as possible will help keep your immune system strong to fight off cancerous cells. Getting regular exercise and great sleep, maintaining a healthy weight and enjoying stress-relieving activities all work together for a healthier life.
Practicing safe sex, including the use of condoms to avoid contracting HPV and other STDs, is essential to avoiding most anal cancers. If you’re sexually active, be sure to get STD testing regularly.