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Anal Cancer Diagnosis

Finding anal cancer in the early stages and diagnosing it accurately can help improve your chances for successful therapy. Since MD Anderson treats more cases of anal cancer than many cancer centers, our specialists are among the most skilled and experienced in diagnosing it. We have the most advanced and accurate technology, as well as specialized experts to interpret results.

Anal Cancer Diagnosis

If you have symptoms that may signal anal cancer, your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health, your lifestyle, including smoking and drinking habits, and your family history.

One or more of the following tests may be used to find out if you have anal cancer and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working.

Imaging tests, which may include:

  • Anoscopy: A short tube with a camera is inserted into the anus and lower rectum. The doctor examines the anus and can biopsy tissue.
  • Proctoscopy: A short tube with a camera is inserted into the anus to the rectum. The doctor examines the anus and can biopsy tissue.
  • Double contrast barium enema (DCBE): Barium is a chemical that allows the bowel lining to show up on an X-ray. You will be given an enema with a barium solution, and then X-rays will be taken.
  • Colonoscopy
  • Virtual colonoscopy or CT (computed tomography) colonoscopy
  • CT or CAT (computed tomography) scans
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
  • PET/CT (positron emission tomography) scans
  • Endo-anal or endorectal ultrasound: An endoscope is inserted into the anus. A probe at the end of the endoscope bounces high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off organs to make an image (sonogram). Also called endosonography.
  • Chest X-Ray

Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: Anal cancer may spread through the lymph system, and sometimes it is found in lymph nodes. A tiny needle is placed into a lymph node, and cells are removed and looked at with a microscope. A positive lymph node biopsy may help the doctor decide what areas to treat with radiation therapy.  

Getting a Second Opinion at MD Anderson

The pathologists at MD Anderson are highly specialized in diagnosing and staging all types of anal cancers. We welcome the opportunity to provide second opinions.

If you would like to get a second opinion at MD Anderson, call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • Advanced anal cancer treatments including sphincter-preserving and minimally invasive surgery, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), and leading-edge chemotherapy and targeted therapies
  • Novel chemotherapy and targeted therapies for anal cancer
  • Special expertise in complex types of anal cancer, including in people with HIV or AIDS
  • Higher level of experience in anal cancer than most other cancer centers
  • Clinical trials of new anal cancer treatments

Anal Cancer Knowledge Center

Treatment at MD Anderson

Anal cancer is treated in our:

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Anal Cancer Staging

If you are diagnosed with anal caner, your doctor will determine the stage of the disease. Staging is a way of talking about how much disease is in the body and where it has spread. This information helps the doctor treat the cancer. Once the staging classification is determined, it stays the same even if treatment is successful or the cancer spreads.

Anal Cancer Stages

(source: National Cancer Institute)

Stage I: Cancer has formed. The tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller.

Stage II: Tumor is larger than 2 centimeters but not greater than or equal to 5 centimeters

Stage IIIA: Tumor is 5 centimeters or greater and/or has spread to either:

  • Lymph nodes near the rectum
  • Nearby organs, such as the vagina, urethra or bladder

Stage IIIB: Tumor is 5 centimeters or greater and/or may be any size and has spread to:

  • Nearby organs and lymph nodes near the rectum
  • Lymph nodes on one side of the pelvis and/or groin and may have spread to nearby organs
  • Lymph nodes near the rectum and in the groin and/or lymph nodes on both sides of the pelvis and/or groin and may have spread to nearby organs

Stage IV: Tumor may be any size and may have spread to lymph nodes or nearby organs and has spread to distant parts of the body.

If you have been diagnosed with anal cancer, we’re here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center