5 Symptoms of Anal Cancer You Should Know About

· February 8, 2019
Even though you may be embarrassed to see a specialist, getting a medical diagnosis at the first signs of anal cancer is fundamental. This is especially important if you're experiencing rectal problems.

You almost never hear about anal cancer. It’s a silent disease and doesn’t have as high of incident rates as lung or breast cancer, and that’s something you should be aware of.

According to the Spanish Association Against Cancer, anal cancer represents 1.9% of all tumors in the digestive tract.

Even though this is not a very high number, you need to be aware of the fact that the rates of this disease have increased in recent years due to risk factors like:

  • Tobacco use
  • Longer life expectancy
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

It affects more men than women but is more common in women over the age of 50.

The biggest problem with anal cancer is that it often progresses without any obvious symptoms.

What’s more is that people who have hemorrhoids often mistakenly attribute the bleeding and bulging to hemorrhoids and therefore never seek the medical attention the situation requires.

Since information is our most powerful tool, let’s take a look at some of the main symptoms of this disease.

Anal cancer, the silent disease

person on a toilet

We don’t often pay much attention to our bodily processes. We go to the bathroom without thinking to check the stool for irregularities or traces of blood.

The anus is not just where the body expels feces. We need to remember that it’s a part of our bowels, specifically the large intestine.

Its ring-shaped muscles are composed of multiple cells that can, for various reasons, undergo genetic changes that produce abnormal or cancerous cells.

There are certain risk factors we can control, but as you know with cancer, it doesn’t all depend on healthy living.

There are other factors we can miss and, for whatever reason, this causes the disease to develop. This is why it’s so important to be aware of the symptoms.

1. Bleeding

This is the main symptom you need to know about. Occasional bleeding may be caused by other factors, so getting a proper diagnosis is important.

  • Sometimes, the bleeding is caused by hemorrhoids, a simple infection or a different disease that a specialist will be able to properly diagnose.
  • It’s important to consult your doctor about this problem as soon as it appears.

2. Feeling of fullness

Most patients who have developed anal cancer experience a feeling of fullness in the rectal area. It’s from a mass growing inside that causes discomfort and even itching.

  • Sometimes these masses impede intestinal transit in such a way that a person can even lose control of their anal muscles.
  • At first, it’s barely noticeable. In fact, most people wait up to 6 months when the symptoms are more obvious before seeing their doctor.

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3. The appearance of “warts”


Anal cancer is often associated with the appearance of warts in the anal region. They may develop in the intestine itself or externally, causing discomfort.

Many patients confuse them with common boils, but it’s important to keep track of them.

Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your doctor. It will give you peace of mind.

4. Changes in bowel movements

We all experience small upsets in our intestinal transit from time to time. Everyone experiences occasional constipation or diarrhea. This is normal.

  • Things to be concerned about include loss of control of the anal muscles and incontinence.
  • As the tumors advance, the patient may experience fluid secretions in the anal area.

5. Itching

person sitting on toilet and experiencing anal itching, a symptom of anal cancer

Symptoms in the lower half of the body include fatigue in the lower back, abdominal pressure, and itching in the anal area.

  • The itching is often attributed to hemorrhoids, so many people resort to the classic creams and treatments to relieve the discomfort of a health problem not often shared with others.
  • We need to once again emphasize the importance of consulting your doctor at the first sign of any of these symptoms.

Early diagnosis increases chances of treatment success and your survival.

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In a small number of cases, anal cancer is not diagnosed until the advanced stages when the tumor has reached the lymph nodes. For these cases, treatment is often much more aggressive.

Medical knowledge advances every day, and new technologies, treatments, and drugs are constantly being developed.

Grulich, A. E., Jin, F., & Poynten, I. M. (2017). Anal cancer. In Schottenfeld and Fraumeni Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Fourth Edition. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780190238667.003.0037