Diagnosis & staging
Anal cancer is not common. There are about 600 cases each year in Canada.
If you have early-stage anal cancer, you may not have any symptoms.
Here are some symptoms of anal cancer:
- Bleeding from your anus. This may be the first sign of cancer.
- Having an itchy anus that does not go away.
- Mucus coming out of your anus.
- A change in your bowel movements (going poop).
- A sore on or near your anus.
- Swollen lymph nodes in your groin or anal area.
If you have any signs or symptoms that you are worried about, please talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner.
Tests that may help diagnose anal cancer include:
- Physical examination: your doctor will examine you. They will use their fingers to check your anus and rectum. This is called a digital rectal examination (DRE).
- Anoscopy or sigmoidoscopy: A tube with a light is put into your anus to look inside the anal canal.
- Biopsy of anal tissue: a small bit of tissue is removed and examined by a pathologist to see if it is cancer.
- Gynecological exam: People with a vagina should have a gynecological exam with a pap smear to check for cervical cancer (cancer of the cervix). Anal cancer and cervical cancer are both related to HPV (human papillomavirus).
- If your lymph nodes are swollen, you may need other tests.
If any of these tests find anal cancer, you may need more tests to see if the cancer has spread. You may need imaging tests like a CT scan, MRI or PET scan of the pelvis and abdomen area.
For more information on tests used to diagnose cancer, see BC Cancer Library screening and diagnosis pathfinder.
cell carcinoma: the most common type of anal cancer. 90% (90 out of 100) of
anal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. They start in the cells that line the
Rare types of anal cancer include adenocarcinomas, basal cell carcinomas and melanomas.
What are the stages of anal cancer?
Staging describes the cancer. Staging is based on how much cancer is in the body, where it was first diagnosed, if the cancer has spread and where it has spread to.
The stage of the cancer can help your health care team plan your treatment. It can also tell them how your cancer might respond to treatment and the chance that your cancer may come back (recur).
- Stage 0: Carcinoma in situ. This is early cancer and has not spread to any other areas.
- Stage 1: Tumour (cancer growth) is 2 cm or less.
- Stage 2: Tumour is between 2 cm and 5 cm.
- Stage 3: Tumour is more than 5 cm.
- Stage 4: Tumour is any size and has spread to nearby organ(s) such as the vagina, urethra, or bladder