Anal Cancer

MSK radiation oncologist and anal cancer expert Christopher Crane

MSK’s anal cancer experts, like radiation oncologist Christopher Crane, are highly experienced in creating personalized treatment plans.

If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with anal cancer, you may have a lot of difficult questions and face some tough decisions. How do I find a doctor? Where is the best place to go for care? How can I keep my quality of life?

MSK’s experts have thought about all of these questions and more, and we are here to provide answers. We have extensive experience treating anal cancer and understand your unique needs. Our goal is to help you achieve the best medical outcome and quality of life possible.

Learn more about anal cancer and how MSK can help.

What is anal cancer?

anal canal diagram
The anus is located at the end of the rectum, and its main function is to help solid waste pass from the body. Cancer of the anus is a rare disease that affects approximately 8,500 people in the United States each year, according to the American Cancer Society. It occurs more commonly in women than in men. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of anal cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV, a common sexually transmitted virus. Learn more about the causes of anal cancer.

Signs of anal cancer may include itching, bleeding, pain when you go to the bathroom, or feeling like you have a lump inside your anus. It’s important to go to your doctor as soon as you notice something is wrong.

What are the types of anal cancer?

People sometimes confuse anal cancer with rectal cancer because the anus is close to the rectum. But each cancer is distinct, so it’s important to get a proper diagnosis. An accurate diagnosis is an essential starting point for getting the most effective treatment. MSK’s experienced pathologists and radiologists will review your tests and work with your care team to ensure that your treatment plan matches your disease.

Learn more about the different types of anal cancer and how it is diagnosed.

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Anus
    Most instances of anal cancer — roughly 90 percent — develop in the squamous cells that line the outer layer of the anus. When caught early, these cancers are often very treatable.
  • Adenocarcinoma of the Anus
    Adenocarcinoma is found in the upper part of the anus. Because it is so close to the rectum, adenocarcinoma of the anus and rectal cancer have similar treatments.
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma of the Anus
    Basal cell carcinoma can occur in the skin surrounding the anus and is most often treated with surgery. It accounts for a very small proportion of anal cancer.
  • Melanoma of the Anus
    Melanoma is the rarest type of anal cancer. It can be very difficult to spot, which means it is often diagnosed at an advanced stage.

How is anal cancer treated?

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy is the most common anal cancer treatment. Your doctor may also discuss proton therapy with you. It is another very precise form of radiation treatment. Radiation therapy is often combined with doses of chemotherapy to help weaken the cancer. This is called chemoradiation.

Most people with anal cancer do not need surgery, which means they can maintain important bodily functions. Your doctors may discuss surgery with you depending on the size, location, and stage of the tumor. If a procedure is necessary, MSK colorectal surgeons use minimally invasive techniques whenever possible. These methods remove the disease with fewer side effects of treatment.

At MSK, your preferences and lifestyle are a key part of making choices about your treatment. Your care team’s top priority is effectively treating the disease while helping you live the life you want. From day one, our entire team is committed to helping you reach your goals during and after treatment. Nutrition, sexual health, and fertility experts and more all take part to map out your care plan.

Learn more about anal cancer treatment at MSK.