Anal Cancer and HPV

HPV and Anal Cancer

Table of Contents

Anal cancer is a topic that no one wants to talk about, but should be discussed.

The American Cancer Society estimates about 8,300 new cases of anal cancer in the United States and over 1,200 deaths to occur as a result.  These are not insignificant figures.

HPV can lead to and cause anal cancer, which is why it is first important to understand what HPV is and how it can develop into something more serious.

Anal Cancer

Anal cancer is when cancerous cells grow in the anal canal, a short tube where stool exits your body.

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Anal bleeding, often the first sign
  • Anal pain
  • Anal Itching
  • Discharge from the anus
  • Lumps or masses in the anal opening
  • Feeling of fullness in the anal area
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin areas
  • Changes in stool, such as narrowing of stool


Anal cancer occurs when there’s a shift in cell metabolism.

Cancer is described in layman’s terms as “cells gone wild”. Abnormal cells that form are an anomaly and should be properly terminated by your body. When these are not terminated, they accumulate and form tumours and can eventually spread to other areas of your body.

Anal cancer is very rare; those cases that are found are likely to be considered a cause of sexually-transmitted infections.

Risk Factors

  • History of cancer
  • Older age – most cases occur in those 50 years of age and older
  • Anal sex
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Positive HPV diagnosis

How HPV Become Anal Cancer?

Anal cancer can be caused by certain high-risk strains of HPV. Once HPV is contracted, cancer is not instant. It may take years of living without symptoms, with a higher likelihood of having no symptoms at all. Most people with strong immune systems are able to pass HPV without getting cancer.

Anal cancer is rare in those younger than 35, with an average age of early 60s being most common. As well, not all HPV strains cause cancer. There are over 100 strains; only a handful of them can cause cancers, like anal cancer.

However, anal cancer can be a complication of an HPV infection, especially in those with weakened immune systems.

It begins with anal dysplasia, or an abnormal growth of precancerous cells in the lining of your anus.


While using a condom reduces risk of anal cancer greatly, it does not eliminate the risk completely.

It is difficult to screen for anal cancer, as it requires a cell sample from the area; not something routinely completed by your healthcare provider. However, anal cancer is very preventable if caught early.

Women may get a digital rectum exam during a gynaecological exam, while men over 50 or those with a history of colon cancer may receive DREs.

Those at high risk may get an anal pap smear from their healthcare provider.

The HPV vaccination may be beneficial in reducing risk of contracting HPV.


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