In 2023, an estimated 9,760 people will receive a diagnosis of anal cancer in the United States. The average age to receive a diagnosis is 60, and women are more likely than men to develop anal cancer.
Anal cancer is a relatively rare cancer in comparison to rectal and colon cancer, but cases are rising faster each year. In many cases, these cases may preventable.
This article looks at incidence rates of anal cancer along with potential causes, risk factors, and prevention strategies.
You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points in this article is pretty binary, fluctuating between the use of “male” and “female” or “men” and “women.” Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and findings.
Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t include data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.
Anal cancer is more rare than other cancers of your lower digestive system such as colon or rectal cancer. Your anus itself is made up of the lower portion of your large intestine just below your rectum but before your anal opening. It’s a 1.5-inch-long muscular canal through which stools leave your body.
While these numbers on their own aren’t that large in comparison with other types of cancer, rates of new diagnoses and deaths have each increased by about
|Anal cancer relative survival rates by stage||5-year relative survival rate|
|Stage 1 (localized, with the cancer in your anal tissue alone)||82%|
|Stage 2 (regional, meaning the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes)||66%|
|Stage 3 (distant, meaning the cancer has spread to your other more distant organs)||35%|
|All stages combined||69%|
Key statistics about anal cancer
- Anal cancer is most common in people older than
35 years of age.
- The average age to receive a diagnosis of anal cancer is around
60 years old. White womenare more likely than women of other races to develop anal cancer. Black menare more likely than men of other races to develop anal cancer.
- The lifetime risk of receiving a diagnosis of anal cancer is about
1 in 500.
The exact cause of anal cancer is unclear. But in the majority of people, it’s linked to an infection of human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than
The type of HPV that has been linked to anal cancer specifically is believed to be mostly spread through oral, genital, or rectal sexual contact.
Certain types of HPV also cause genital warts, while others can cause cancers of the:
Who’s at risk of anal cancer?
Anyone who has unprotected sexual contact is at risk of a host of sexually transmitted diseases. Anal cancer is no exception. Some of the biggest
- having a previous HPV infection
- having a weak immune system due to a medical condition or medication
- having many sexual partners (creating an increased risk of an infection of HIV and HPV)
- having received a previous diagnosis of vulvar, vaginal, or cervical cancer
- having anal sex (specifically if you’re the receiving partner)
- smoking cigarettes
The symptoms of anal cancer include:
- bleeding from your anus
- a lump near your anus
- feelings of pain or pressure
- anal itching or discharge
- changes in your bowel movements
If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor or healthcare professional for a physical examination and diagnosis. In addition to the number of people receiving a diagnosis of anal cancer increasing,
What’s the difference between anal cancer and colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is the name given to cancers that develop in your colon or rectum — both sections of your large intestine. Anal cancer, on the other hand, develops in the lowermost part of your digestive tract where stool is pushed from your body.
While your anus may seem like it should be a part of this system, your anus is considered separate from colorectal cancer. One reason for this is the fact that your anus is made up of both your large intestine and external tissue. The other reason is related to the primary cause of anal cancer: a virus.
The use of barrier methods of birth control may help to reduce your risk of developing anal cancer. According to the
If you have known risk factors that you’re unable or incapable of changing, talk with a doctor about regular screening. Screening for anal cancer can take the form of a digital rectal exam, where a doctor manually examines your anal canal and rectum through your anus or vagina.
If additional testing is needed, a doctor may need to perform an anoscopy, where your anal canal is examined with a viewing tool inserted through your anal opening.
Rates of anal cancer are on the rise, but preventive measures such as the HPV vaccine offer new hope.
Many of the risk factors for anal cancer are avoidable, but if you’re at high risk, talk with a doctor about screening. Catching anal cancer early can significantly improve your outlook.