Itching in and around the anus is just one symptom of anal cancer. Other symptoms include bleeding from the rectum or bloody stool.

Anal cancer is considered rare compared to other forms of cancer. But the rate of anal cancer is rising in the United States, with nearly 10,000 new cases estimated for 2023. Anal cancer is uncommon in people under 35. The average age at diagnosis is in the early 60s.

Itching around the anus is one symptom of anal cancer, but it’s not the only symptom or the most common one. Anal itching is also a symptom shared with other health conditions.

In this article, we take a look at all the symptoms of anal cancer, as well as who’s at risk for anal cancer and what you can do to prevent it.

Itching in and around the rectum or anal opening can be a symptom of anal cancer, but bleeding from the rectum or blood in stools is usually the first symptom. This bleeding is usually minor and can be mistaken for hemorrhoids.

Other symptoms you might notice with anal cancer include:

  • small lumps near the anal opening
  • pain around the anus
  • a mucus discharge from the anus
  • change in frequency of bowel movements
  • lack of bowel control (incontinence)
  • swollen lymph glands in the anal or groin area

Anal cancer isn’t the only condition that can cause itching in and around the rectum. Some other possible causes of itching in the perianal area include:

Colorectal cancers that affect higher areas of the gastrointestinal tract usually don’t cause rectal itching. Colon cancers usually include other symptoms like weight loss, abdominal pain or cramping, and weakness or fatigue.

Anal cancer is strongly linked to infections caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 150 different varieties of HPV. These viruses can be spread by skin-to-skin contact, but anal cancer has a strong link to sexual transmission.

Some of the main risk factors for developing anal cancer include:

One of the best ways to prevent anal cancer is to get vaccinated against the HPV virus. The HPV vaccine doesn’t protect against every type of cancer linked to the virus, but different formulas target either 4 or 9 particular types of the virus that can cause cancer.

Other ways to prevent anal cancer include practicing safe sex (to prevent the spread of STDs, HPV, and HIV) and quitting smoking.

Itching around the anus is one possible symptom of anal cancer, but it’s not the only symptom. It’s also a symptom shared by numerous other health conditions.

If you’re concerned about anal itching or other changes in your bowel habits, talk with a doctor about your symptoms and your risks for anal cancer. They can diagnose your symptoms and also recommend potential screening tests if you’re concerned about your risk for anal cancer.