Anal cancer and colorectal cancer often have symptoms that can be mistaken for other conditions. For example, anal cancer is often misdiagnosed as hemorrhoids. This is why regular cancer screenings are so important. Be sure to get a colonoscopy or seek a second opinion if your symptoms don’t resolve in a few weeks.
How are anal cancer and colorectal cancer diagnosed?
Anal cancer and colorectal cancer can be diagnosed at regular screening colonoscopy exams, even before a patient develops symptoms.
If you develop symptoms in between screening colonoscopies, a diagnostic colonoscopy can be performed to look inside the anal canal, rectum and colon to check for cancer. A biopsy can be performed to determine whether or not cancer is present.
How are anal cancer and colorectal cancer treated?
The most common type of cancer cell causing anal cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. It responds well to and is most commonly treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy delivered together. We can sometimes use a procedure called a local excision to remove very small and early-stage anal cancers that have not metastasized to the lymph nodes and do not invade the sphincter. This represents a minority of anal cancer cases.
Treatment options for colorectal cancer differ depending on the location of the cancer. Tumors in the colon can be treated with surgery alone, or chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery, depending on the size of the tumor and whether or not the cancer has spread to lymph nodes.
Tumors in the rectum have a higher chance of coming back after surgery, so rectal cancer is often treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy before surgery. Patients with rectal cancer have several treatment options, depending on the location of the tumor in the rectum, its size and whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes. These treatment options are:
chemotherapy followed by surgery and no radiation if the tumor shrinks enough after chemotherapy
chemotherapy followed by radiation and no surgery if there is no cancer left after chemotherapy and radiation
chemotherapy, radiation and surgery if there is a high risk of recurrence
Getting the right diagnosis is the best way to ensure you get the correct treatment. And with early detection, both anal cancer and colorectal cancer can be successfully treated.