Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
April 15, 2024 ·  4 min read

6 early warning signs of Anal Cancer everyone is too embarrassed to talk about

Over the last few decades, cancer has taken center stage in both the medical and media communities. This is largely in part due to the unbearable symptoms and often aggressive treatments that are inseparable from this terrible disease. However, there is one form of cancer that far too many people completely overlook – anal cancer.

What Is Anal Cancer?

Anal cancer is a form of cancer that starts at the opening of one’s anus (i.e., where the rectum ends).

Quick distinction: Anal cancer is not to be confused with colorectal cancer. Whereas colorectal cancer affects the entire large intestine and the rectum, anal cancer refers to cancer that affects only the opening of the rectum.

The reason why this form of cancer is often overlooked is because of its location. It’s not a body part that is readily visible to examine on a daily basis, or an area we even consider when discussing cancer. As a result, people may inadvertently ignore or dismiss symptoms of anal cancer entirely. Not to mention, it can be a touchy and embarrassing topic to discuss. Because it does not get the (immediate) attention it requires, people with potential anal cancer symptoms run the risk of the disease worsening. So, as tough as it is to acknowledge, this type of discussion needs to happen.

Quick Facts About Anal Cancer

  • Approximately 8,000 Americans are diagnosed with anal cancer every year, 1,000 of whom are expected to die as a result.
  • About 1 in 4 people with anal cancer are diagnosed late (i.e., after the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes).
  • 1 in 10 people with anal cancer are diagnosed after it has spread to other organs.

Although it is not as frequent as colon, rectal or colorectal cancer, the number of incidents of anal cancer continues to steadily increase. Researchers suggest it may be due to the fact mentioned above; that people are not addressing the symptoms and getting it treated early enough. But, what are the symptoms?

6 Most Common Symptoms of Anal Cancer

Identifying anal cancer in its earliest stage is incredibly important. Although, it can be very hard to do so since many symptoms of anal cancer are not present until later. However, if you intentionally and regularly watch out for potential subtle symptoms, although the cancer may be progressing, it can help minimize risk. Symptoms can include:

  • Pain or tenderness in the anus
  • Itching in the anus
  • Anal bleeding
  • Other unusual discharge from anus
  • Presence of a lump or hard area near outside of anus
  • Unusual bowel movements

In most cases, the cause of anal cancer is unclear. However, factors that can increase your risk of developing anal cancer may include: frequent irritation of the anus, cigarette smoking, and a compromised immune system.

The people who are most at risk for anal cancer are those over the age of 60. In fact, people 60-years-old and up account for approximately 80 percent of anal cancer cases. On the lower end of the age spectrum, men under the age of 35 are more likely to develop anal cancer, although the higher risk shifts to women once they hit 50-years-old.

To ensure your health and safety, if you fall under the at-risk demographic and regularly encounter any of these symptoms of anal cancer, please see your doctor or health specialist for an examination.

How To Detect Anal Cancer Early

Detecting anal cancer in its earlier stages can be the determining factor in successfully overcoming it. There are a number of procedures that you can undergo to help detect anal cancer. Here are some of them:

Digital Rectal Exam

During the examination the doctor puts on a lubricated glove and uses his or her finger to search the anal cavity for lumps and any other abnormalities.


In an anoscopy, your doctor will  insert a small, tubular instrument (i.e., an anascope) into your anus to get a more detailed look at your insides. These are usually only performed if the doctor has found something abnormal during the digital rectal exam.

Biopsies, Ultrasounds, X-Rays, CT Scans, MRIs, and PET scans

All these are procedures doctors commonly use to detect anal cancer. However, there is a lot of controversy surrounding these procedures, as many people claim that they can promote the spread of cancer.

Although they may be necessary to detect certain types of anal cancer, your best bet to detect anal cancer is to get annual rectal exams, even if they may be a bit uncomfortable. Let us know if this information helped you in the comment section.


  1. https://www.cancer.gov/types/anal/patient/anal-treatment-pdq
  2. https://www.webmd.com/cancer/what-is-anal-cancer
  3. https://analcancerinfo.ucsf.edu/anal-cancer-symptoms-and-detection-0
  4. https://www.webmd.com/colorectal-cancer/digital-rectal-examination-dre