Anal Cancer: Preserving Pelvic Function - Houston Colon – Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery

Anal Cancer: Preserving Pelvic Function

March 21, 2011

Anal cancer is considered to be relatively rare especially when compared to other gastrointestinal cancers. Approximately 3400 cases are diagnosed each year with an 85% survival rate, as opposed to 140,000 for colorectal cancer with a 65% survival rate.  As with all cancers, early detection is a major factor in realizing a cure, as well as achieving long term survival. Colorectal surgeons in Houston specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers in all areas of the digestive tract, including the anus.

The anus is a sphincter muscle at the end of the rectum that is responsible for controlling bowel movement.  In general, cancer cells in this area will either form around the anal opening or within the anal canal, which is only one to two inches in length.  Two of most common contributing factors are squamous cell and cloagenic carcinomas. The former emanates from skin cells and the latter from the mucosa lining along the upper part of the canal. There is also a pre-cancerous anal condition known as Bowens Disease.

Anal cancer is easier to diagnose earlier than some other forms because the area is readily visible and palpatable. However, symptoms can replicate a wide range of pelvic floor disorders.  For this reason, whenever there is any evidence of rectal abnormality such as bleeding, uncommon discharge, swelling, persistent itching or pain, a thorough examination by one of the Houston colorectal surgeons is recommended sooner rather than later in order to preserve pelvic function.

Anal cancer treatments in early diagnoses have proven to be very effective in achieving complete eradication of the cancer cells. The success rate is still relatively high if caught somewhat later or has recurred in a small amount after treatment.  Chemotherapy, Radiation or a combination of both known as Chemoradiation Therapy are the usual forms of treatment. Determining the best protocol is based on the size, location of the tumor or tumors, as well as if there has been any spread outside of the anal canal.

Anal cancer surgery is only called for in cases where the cancer has proven to be extremely aggressive, as indicated by recurrences even after a full course of chemoradiation.  The surgery is called an addominalperineal resection or APR.  Performed by laparoscopic techniques, the surgeon removes the anus, rectum and sigmoid colon.  A procedure called a colostomy is then performed to create an opening for bodily waste to pass through into a colostomy pouch or bag. It is very important to choose a surgical team that is experienced in minimally invasive surgical procedures such as laparoscopy and robotics in order to avoid pelvic nerve damage, as well as reduce the length of recovery.

To date, there are no fully confirmed way to prevent this type of cancer, although there seems to be a link to certain risk factors. However, early detection in a pre-cancerous stage is one of the most effective preventative measures. This depends upon colorectal examinations at the recommended intervals, an awareness of  bodily changes and avoidance of any contributing risk factors.

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Houston residents who are diagnosed with anal cancer can anticipate optimal outcomes as a result of consulting colorectal surgeons who offer a wide range of state-of-the-art therapeutic and surgical modalities.  The Houston Colorectal Surgical Associates is a team of specialists on the leading edge of the diagnosis and treatment of male and female disorders of the colon and rectum.  Additional information is available at HoustonColon.Com.