Anal cancer is rare but has been in the spotlight recently because of the former Charlie’s Angel actress Farrah Fawcett’s ongoing battle with the disease.
Notably a television show aired in America following the last number of years of her life.
Most cases are believed to be caused by the human papilloma virus or HPV or it is known to be linked to unprotected anal sex.
The latter, more commonly, with a partner suffering from genital warts. This type of cancer is ten times more likely to affect people who have the Aids virus.
The key to the patient’s prognosis is in detecting the cancer as early as possible and the symptoms include bleeding and painful movements of the bowel.
A rectal examination will find any tumor relatively easily which is then confirmed by histology. Radiation treatment combined with chemotherapy is usually what is offered to fight it.
Statistics from the National Cancer Institute show that there are five thousand cases diagnosed every year in the United States. This is compared to over one hundred thousand new cases of colon cancer.
Nobel Prize winner, Harald zur Hausen discovered the connection between cervical cancer and HPV resulting in the vaccination now being utilized across the world. It is the HPV virus that is likely to cause anal cancer so protection could be provided by the vaccine for Fawcett’s disease too.
Oncologist Dr Peter Hausner from the Greenebaun Cancer Center at the University of Maryland, notes that research is ongoing, in particular to reduce the amount of healthy tissue that is destroyed during treatment.