Anal cancer

What is anal cancer?

Anal cancer refers to the development of abnormal cells in the tissues of the anus, which have the ability to multiply and spread.

While most anal cancers are squamous cell cancers (SCC), they can also be classified as basal cell carcinoma (BCC), melanoma or adenocarcinoma of the anus.1

Signs and symptoms of anal cancer

Symptoms of anal cancer include:

  • Pain, discomfort or itching around the anus
  • Frequent urge to defecate
  • Difficulty controlling bowel movements
  • Blood or mucus in stool

However, as these symptoms can also be caused by other common conditions, it’s important to consult a surgical specialist.


Your treatment will depend on the type of anal cancer you have.

Treatments may include:

  • Surgery to remove the tumour – most suitable for early-stage anal cancer
  • Radical surgery – which involves removing the anal canal, rectum and regional lymph nodes
  • Chemotherapy – can be used alone or together with radiation therapy to treat anal cancer
  • Radiation therapy – uses radiation to directly target and destroy cancer cells

Frequently asked questions

What are the causes of anal cancer?

Lifestyle, health and genetic factors that can increase your risk of developing anal cancer include:1

  • Infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • History of multiple sexual partners and receptive anal intercourse
  • Pre-existing conditions including immunodeficiency, long term inflammation around the anus, chronic fistula disease and cervical, vulval and vaginal cancers/cell abnormalities in women
  • Smoking


For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Cancer Council Australia. (2019). Anal cancer. Retrieved on 19 November 2019 from

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