We make every effort to preserve the sphincter without affecting control of bowel movements, and we use all means possible to decrease the risk of a colostomy. However, if a colostomy is needed, highly qualified nurses help you make the transition and maintain your quality of life.
If you have anal cancer that has spread and/or have HIV or AIDS, we offer the most advanced treatments, as well as clinical trials of new agents.
Our Anal Cancer Treatments
Anal cancer often can be treated successfully with chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy. If the cancer has spread (metastasized), a combination of therapies including surgery as well as participation in a clinical trial may be suggested.
The team of specialists focusing on your care will discuss with you the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including:
- The stage of anal cancer
- Location of the tumor in the anus
- If you have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or other immunosuppressed condition
- If the cancer has just been diagnosed or if it has returned after being treated
- Your age and general health
Your treatment for anal cancer will be customized to your particular needs. Treatments for anal cancer, which may be used to fight the cancer or help relieve symptoms, may include:
Anal cancer surgery is most successful when performed by a specialist with a great deal of experience in the particular procedure. MD Anderson surgeons perform a large number of surgeries for anal cancer each year, using the most advanced techniques.
If surgery is needed to treat anal cancer, your surgeon may use one of the following procedures:
Local resection: The tumor, along with some of the tissue around it, is surgically removed.
Abdominoperineal resection (APR): The anus, the rectum and part of the colon are removed through an incision in the abdomen. The end of the intestine is attached to an opening (stoma) in the abdomen. Body waste leaves this opening and is collected in a plastic bag outside the body. This also is called a colostomy.
MD Anderson offers the most up-to-date and effective chemotherapy options to treat anal cancer.
New radiation therapy techniques allow MD Anderson doctors to target anal cancer tumors more precisely, delivering the maximum amount of radiation with the least damage to healthy cells.
Some anal cancers can be treated with intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). This technique precisely targets the cancer and causes less damage to healthy tissue.
MD Anderson is leading into the future of cancer treatment by developing innovative targeted therapies. These agents are specially designed to treat each cancer’s specific genetic/molecular profile to help your body fight the disease. Many of the doctors who treat cancer at MD Anderson are dedicated researchers who have pioneered and actively lead national and international clinical trials with novel targeted agents.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering
promising new treatments that cannot be
found anywhere else.
Find the latest news and information about anal cancer in our
Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news
releases and more.
When people learn that I have cancer, they usually appear saddened and offer me encouragement, often adding how good I look. When they learn that I have stage IV cancer, their sadness deepens, and they tell me how sorry they are. When they discover that I have stage IV anal cancer, they appear shocked and either shut up or ask in hushed voices how I "caught it."
After four years, you would think I'd be used to the stigma. Don't
get me wrong. I step through it every time. I am anything but ashamed
of my anal cancer, but stigma is hard to shake.
Facing the anal cancer stigma
Recently, I had agreed to appear in a local television news story about an upcoming event for a local cancer charity along with the charity's director.
Before we started taping, the producer came over to talk to us about our segments. He looked at me and asked, "Where do I know you from?"
I reminded him that the station had just done a story about me and my cancer. "Anal cancer Lady," I said.
"Oh yeah," he replied.
The charity director chimed in, "Don't worry. She won't talk about that."
"Yeah, don't worry," I numbly responded. "What are you saying?!" my brain pleaded. But I kept my mouth shut.
When we recorded the segment, I stuck to the script. I just smiled and said yes after the reporter introduced me as a cancer survivor. I know that if I had some other form of "socially acceptable" or "popular" cancers, they would have mentioned the kind of cancer I have. I never mentioned it because I had already told them I wouldn't say the "a" word.
I felt like such a failure in that moment. I was letting fellow anal
cancer patients and survivors down here. What was my problem?
Showing pride as an anal cancer survivor
Later that afternoon, while my husband and I watched the segment on television, I told him what had happened and how I was feeling like an anal cancer advocate loser. He placed a comforting arm around me and reminded me that we have to meet people where they are and not where we'd like them to be. I nodded through quick tears.
Later, I started to realize how entrenched the shame and stigma around anal cancer is. I have this disease, and I still shy away from saying it, just as I did in that moment in the studio.
I have strived to stand tall and hold my head high about being an anal cancer patient since day one. But every once in a while, the shame of my particular diagnosis paralyzes me, and I forget that I can make a choice to step beyond it and say: "I am an anal cancer survivor!"