What Are the Causes and Risk Factors of Anal Cancer?

An oral HPV infection has a high correlation with anal cancer. Anal cancer risk factors include smoking, HPV infection, and many related variables. You can take a few precautions to help avoid this illness.

Cancer that starts in the anus is known as anal cancer. This is the passageway through which stool exits your body after a bowel movement, connecting your large intestine to the outside.

Changes in your bowel habits, pressure or soreness around the anus, and anal bleeding are some of the signs that may indicate anal cancer. Additionally, anal cancer can metastasize or spread to other neighbouring or distant tissues.

Anal cancer is highly correlated with HPV infection. We'll look at the risk factors and causes of anal cancer below. We'll also address a few commonly asked queries.

What causes anal cancer?

Anal cancer develops when cells start to grow out of control and infiltrate surrounding tissues, just like other malignancies. Changes in DNA cause this, as they have an impact on cell division and growth.

While the specific origin of anal cancer remains unknown, there is a substantial correlation between HPV infection and the disease. An estimated 80–85% of diagnoses of anal cancer are linked to HPV.

Among sexually transmitted infections, HPV is the most prevalent in the US. While the majority of HPV infections are asymptomatic, some might result in cancer or genital warts.

The HPV strains linked to cancer are frequently referred to by doctors as "high risk." HPV16 is the strain of the virus that is most frequently linked to anal cancer.

Who gets anal cancer?

An important risk factor for anal cancer is HPV infection.

Apart from a documented HPV infection, additional HPV-associated risk factors for anal cancer comprise:
  • Cancer history: Your risk of having anal cancer is increased if you have a personal history of other malignancies that are closely associated with HPV, such as vaginal, vulvar, or cervical cancer.
  • Anal warts: Although the types of HPV that cause anal warts and anal cancer are unrelated, having an HPV type linked to anal warts may increase your risk of getting an HPV type linked to cancer.
  • Sexual factors: There are several elements associated with sexual activity that might also elevate your risk of HPV and, consequently, anal cancer. These include engaging in receptive anal intercourse and having several sexual partners.
  • Weakened immune system: A compromised immune system might make it harder for your body to fight off diseases like HPV. The following are possible reasons for a compromised immune system:
  • having HIV or AIDS
  • before obtaining an organ transplant
  • using immune system-suppressive drugs
An additional independent risk factor for anal cancer is smoking. This is due to the many chemicals in tobacco smoke that cause cancer.

But smoking can also harm your immune system, making it less effective at fending off illnesses. In actuality, current smoking is linked to a higher prevalence and persistence of HPV as compared to never having smoked.

Can you prevent anal cancer?

Yes. Getting the HPV vaccine is one of the greatest strategies to avoid anal cancer, as HPV is the primary cause of the disease.

The HPV vaccine offers protection against both the types of HPV that are most frequently linked to cancer, such as HPV16, and those that cause genital warts.

It is advised by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that children between the ages of 11 and 12 take two doses of the HPV vaccine, spaced six to twelve months apart. But adults and teenagers can also receive the vaccination.

There are more methods you can take to reduce your risk of anal cancer:
  • A doctor can assist you in stopping smoking by developing a cessation plan.
  • getting treatment for HIV, if you've been diagnosed with the virus
  • employing a barrier during intercourse, such as a condom

What does anal cancer look like?

Anal cancer symptoms can include:
  • bleeding from the anus or strange discharge
  • discomfort or itching around the anus
  • discomfort or pressure in the pelvic or anus region
  • a protrusion near the anus
  • alterations in your bowel movements, like:
  • alterations to the form of your stool, like making it narrower or smaller than normal
  • diarrhea
  • increased frequency of bowel motions
  • difficulties going to the toilet
  • bowel incontinence
Numerous other disorders, such as haemorrhoids or anal fissures, may be the cause of these symptoms. It's crucial to speak with a doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing.

Can a colonoscopy detect anal cancer?

Yes. Your anus may have abnormalities that are linked to anal cancer that can be found during a colonoscopy. However, confirmation of an anal cancer diagnosis requires more testing, such as analysis of a biopsy sample.

How common is anal cancer?

Anal malignancy is uncommon. Only 2.5% of all malignancies affecting the digestive tract are thought to be related to it.

In the United States, an estimated 10,540 new cases of anal cancer will be diagnosed by physicians in 2024.

Can you die from anal cancer?

Anal cancer can be lethal. However, several variables affect your prognosis, including the cancer's stage, how well it reacts to treatment, your age, and your general health.

The National Cancer Institute reports that the following 5-year survival statistics apply to anal cancer cases diagnosed between 2013 and 2019:
  • 70.4% overall
  • 83.7% in cases when anal cancer confined to the anus
  • 67.5% in cases where anal cancer had regional spread
  • When anal cancer spread to farther-off tissues, the percentage was 26.2%.

Is anal cancer curable?

Yes. Particularly when detected in its early stages, anal cancer is curable. More advanced cancers have spread farther and provide greater treatment challenges.

When feasible, surgery and chemoradiation therapy—a mix of chemotherapy and radiation therapy—are the two main forms of treatment for anal cancer.


There is still no clear reason for anal cancer. But there is a clear link between HPV infection and anal cancer. It also poses a significant risk for anal cancer. An additional risk factor for anal cancer is smoking.

Since the HPV vaccine guards against the strain of HPV most frequently linked to anal cancer, getting it can help avoid the disease. Prevention also includes giving up smoking and protecting yourself during intercourse with a condom or other barrier technique.

When cancer is detected and treated early, prognosis often improves. If you have any new or worrisome symptoms, such as changes in your bowel habits, pain or itching around your anus, or anal bleeding, get in touch with a doctor.

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