Anal cancer starts in the anus. To understand anal cancer, it helps to know about the normal structure and function of the anus.
Sometimes anal cancer causes no symptoms at all. But bleeding is often the first sign of the disease. The bleeding is usually minor. At first, most people assume the bleeding is caused by hemorrhoids (painful, swollen veins in the anus and rectum that may bleed). They are a benign and fairly common cause of rectal bleeding.
Important symptoms of anal cancer include:
A lump or mass at the anal opening
Pain or a feeling of fullness in the anal area
Narrowing of stool or other changes in bowel movements
Abnormal discharge from the anus
Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin areas
The 3 main methods of treatment for anal cancer are:
Often the best approach combines 2 or more of these strategies. In the past, surgery was the only way to cure anal cancer, but now most anal cancers are treated with radiation and chemotherapy combined (called chemoradiation or chemoradiotherapy). This approach often eliminates the need for surgery.
Based on your treatment options, you might have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors could include:
A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy
A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy
A surgical oncologist (oncologic surgeon): a doctor who uses surgery to treat cancer
A colorectal surgeon (proctologist): a doctor who uses surgery to treat diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus.