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Anal Cancer

Doctors diagnose fewer than 10,000 anal cancers each year in the United States. When it comes to treating rare cancers, experience matters. The specialists at the University of Michigan Health Rogel Cancer Center have the expertise and skill to diagnose and treat all types of anal cancer.

Anal Cancer Care: Why Choose Rogel Cancer Center?

When you or someone you love has anal cancer, you need an experienced care team for the best possible outcomes. Our colorectal cancer specialists use their extra training and experience to diagnose and treat anal cancers. We offer:

  • Collaborative care: Our medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons work together to develop anal cancer treatment strategies. Each of our subspecialists is highly skilled in treating these cancers. Meet our team.
  • Accurate diagnosis: Using advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques, our radiologists specialize in creating detailed views of the anus and rectum to design a personalized treatment plan for your specific needs.
  • Sophisticated treatments: Expert radiation oncologists use advanced radiation therapies, including intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), to destroy cancer. We also offer GI cancer clinical trials that help eligible patients access new therapies. Depending on the cancer, chemotherapy is often used at the same time as radiation therapy to improve health outcomes.
  • Dedicated follow-up care: Our surgeons monitor you after anal cancer treatment to help ensure complete remission. We’re dedicated to your recovery.

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About Anal Cancer

During digestion, waste products (stool) travel through the colon (part of the large intestine) and into the rectum. During bowel movements, stool leaves the body through a small flexible opening at the end of the digestive tract (anus).

The anus is formed from tissues of the intestine and outer layers of skin. Sphincter muscles, ring-shaped muscular tissue that allows the anus to open and close, are also part of the anus.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common anal cancer. Anal cancer occurs when cells in the tissues of the anus grow in ways that aren’t typical. Cancer can occur in the:

  • Anal canal: A short tube connecting the rectum to the skin outside the anus (known as the anal verge)
  • Anal margin: The outer skin of the anal area, also known as the perianal skin
  • Mucosa: Cells that line the anal canal and cover glands that make mucus for lubrication

You might not have any symptoms of anal cancer. But the most common anal cancer symptoms are bleeding or a lump in the skin near the anus. They include:

  • Anal discharge
  • Bleeding
  • Bowel habit changes (including a narrow stool shape)
  • Itching
  • Pain

Rogel Cancer Center experts diagnose growths and changes in the soft tissues of the anus. We begin with a physical examination. We also use imaging tests to view the area in greater detail. These tests include:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: Experts use a special X-ray test that creates detailed images of the anus to see if cancer has spread to other organs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Specialists perform a test that uses radio waves and magnets to create images. These images show any changes to lymph nodes and other tissues that could indicate cancer.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: You take a small amount of radioactive material (radiotracer) that makes tumors more visible on scans. Specialists then take a CT scan or MRI to find areas where cancer may have spread. This test helps our experts find and diagnose cancer. We also use PET to determine if treatment is shrinking or destroying tumors.

We often recommend additional tests such as anoscopy. Specialists insert a short lighted tube (anoscope) into the anus to view the anal canal. We may take a tissue sample (biopsy) for our expert pathologist to review under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Anal Cancer Treatment at Rogel Cancer Center

Anal cancer is often associated with the human papilloma virus (HPV). Our experts typically treat anal cancer with chemotherapy and radiation. We use a range of advanced treatment options depending on whether cancer has spread and to what extent (known as its stage).

Rogel Cancer Center medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons work together to provide personalized care for anal cancer. We treat anal cancer with:

  • External beam radiation therapy: We use external beam radiation therapy to treat anal tumors. We may combine radiation therapy with chemotherapy (chemoradiation) over several weeks to destroy cancer cells.
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): Expert radiation oncologists use a computerized system to design a radiation dose that is the exact size and shape of tumors (known as a conformal dose). They then deliver this precise dose directly to anal tumors. IMRT helps spare healthy tissue in the pelvis.
  • Medical oncology: Medication specialists prescribe drugs to treat anal cancer. We may use chemotherapy (drugs that kill cancer cells) or immunotherapy (drugs that help your immune system destroy cancer).
  • Surgery: Our skilled surgeons remove (resect) small anal tumors that have not spread and that don’t involve the sphincter. Depending on the size of the tumor, we may recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery.

Many anal cancers are like skin cancers. We treat these cancers with chemotherapy, radiation and sometimes, surgery. After treatment, our surgeons provide follow-up care to make sure anal cancer hasn’t developed again (recurred).

Multidisciplinary Colorectal Cancer Care

The specialists at Rogel Cancer Center work together to treat all types of colorectal cancer in our multidisciplinary clinics. Our specialist team offers access to expert diagnoses and the most advanced treatments for colorectal cancers. The multidisciplinary approach at Rogel Cancer Center ensures you benefit from our team’s years of training, skill and experience.

Find GI Cancer Support Services

When you or a loved one has anal cancer, the GI cancer support services at Rogel Cancer Center can help. We’re here for you and your family, providing the information and resources you need at every step.

Request an Appointment

Learn more about how we diagnose and treat all anal cancer types at Rogel Cancer Center. Call 734-647-8902 to make an appointment.