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7 Things You Need To Know About Anal Cancer In Men

Anal cancer is a rare disease and the understanding of its natural history is evolving. While it is the 26th most common cancer in the USA annually, the incidence rate is increasing at 2% per year over the past decade. Further underpinning its importance in recent times is that it is also one of the cancers that has devastatingly poor outcomes in the late stage while being relatively easy to detect and treat in the early stages.


What is Anal Cancer?

Anal cancer like all cancers start when the cells lose the ability to maintain their original form. Precancerous changes such as aberrant growth soon occurs as these cells no longer serve their original function and a tumor develops. 

The anal canal is a 4 cm structure that continues from the rectum. Embryologically, this canal develops from 2 distinct stem cells that originate from different parts of the body. As the embryo develops into a fetus, these 2 stems cells develop into either Squamous Cells (outside of canal) or Columnar Cells (inside of anal canal). These 2 cells meet and develop into the anal canal. This is important because the junction at which these 2 cells converge while forming your anal canal all those years ago is also the most susceptible site for developing anal cancer. 


Although not entirely analogous, anal cancer shares many similarities with cervical cancer in women. Both cancers occur most frequently at the junction where 2 normally distinct cells meet and majority of both tumors are found to be co-infected with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) sub-type 16.

Men who have sex with Men (MSM) and immuncompromised patients (transplant, cancer patients and HIV patients) are more prone to this cancer. Compared to the general population, MSM with no HIV have 2 times the risk of developing anal cancer, MSM with HIV have up to 25 times the risk while transplant patients have 5 times the risk and a patient with previous colon cancer has 20 times the risk. Other risk factors include previous ano-genital warts, previous STD infection and high risk sexual activity.

Anal Cancer In The Early Stages

In its early stages, anal cancer does not produce any symptoms. The early signs of of developing anal cancer is pre-cancerous cell changes. This is detected by direct visualization and sampling of the area. The core principle of screening for anal cancer is hence looking for these pre-cancerous changes. This can be done through a variety of methods depending on the expertise available, each method has different levels of specificity in detecting anal cancer. 

Anal Pap Smear & HPV Testing

Currently, the Anal PAP smear and HPV testing is considered to be the most practical means of screening for anal cancer. This involves a swab inserted into the anal canal and cells from the area are sampled and looked under a microscope for any pre-cancerous changes, further processing of the sample via HPV DNA PCR is also used to detect any presence of HPV in these cells. Once the patients with potential risk of developing anal cancers are pick out with this screening, a further diagnostic test is required. The current diagnostic standard is High Resolution Anoscopy where a high magnification scope is used to examine the tissue. Different reagents are also used to differentiate normal tissue from pre-cancerous tissue. 

There are no established guidelines for how frequent screening should be carried out but current expert opinions recommend every 1 – 2 years for MSM with HIV and 2 – 3 years for MSM without HIV. 

Treatment of Anal Cancer

Treatment of anal cancer can be considered in 2 categories – Pre-cancerous treatment and Cancer treatment. Precancerous changes, once detected by screening and diagnosed with Anoscopy can be treated with either Topical Therapy such to eradicate the precancerous tissues. Local Ablative Therapy that involves Radiofrequency Ablation can also be used to destroy the any precancerous tissue. Cancer treatment for pre-cancerous changes that have progressed to cancer, on the other hand requires surgery.

In both situations, close monitoring post treatment is essential as the recurrence rates are significant especially in high grade pre-cancerous changes. 

Preventing pre-cancerous changes is essential to the approach of reducing anal cancer rates. HPV vaccination is shown to reduce pre-cancerous changes with a recent study showing 75% reduction in both Low and High grade changes in MSM population. There is also data suggesting that vaccination after precancerous changes have been detected is also able to reduce the rate of recurrence by approximately 20%.

In summary, anal cancer is disease in which majority of the tumors are driven by the HPV virus and in which pre-cancerous changes in the patients can accurately predict the chances of developing cancer especially in high risk populations. This makes screening and detection of early disease together with vaccination essential to reducing the rates of anal cancer.

Next read: PENILE CANCER – 7 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW!

Genital Warts: The Cauliflower-Like Lumps on the Genitals

Genital warts are white or flesh-coloured, smooth, small bumps that can appear anywhere in the general area of the genitals. They can also grow larger and appear as fleshy, cauliflower-like lumps on the genitals. Neither of which are more dangerous than the other, it is merely a characteristic and the stage that the illness was noticed.
Genital warts is an STD symptom caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

HPV can cause multiple illnesses in the body as there are multiple strains of the virus attributing to different diseases in humans. Out of the hundreds of known strains of HPV, about 30 strains of the virus cause diseases of the genital area. These include warts, or in more sinister cases, cancer of the anus, cervix, vagina, and penis. Read: Causes of Vaginal Lumps & Bumps & Perianal Warts (Peri-Anal Warts)

Most of the other strains have no known effect on humans.


How do I get infected by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)?

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a contagious disease that is transmitted through genital skin contact or through direct contact with genital fluids of a person already infected with HPV.
For transmissible illness such as these, using barrier methods of protection for sexual intercourse such as condoms should be emphasised. However, condoms are not very effective against transmitting HPV just because the HPV virus does not require penetrative sex to transmit the virus.

It can also be transmitted from a mother to an unborn child if the mother has an active HPV infection during the course of the pregnancy.


How do I know I am infected with HPV? How can it be detected?

A majority of people infected with HPV do not realise they even have the virus as it does not present with any symptoms.

Some people will notice bumps or warts around the genital area, otherwise known as genital warts. These usually occur one to three months after initial infection with HPV.


The most sinister manifestation of the HPV disease is cervical cancer affecting women in their 30s or 40s. The simplest way to detect cervical cancer is by identifying if an individual is an active risk of getting the disease and doing regular PAP smears. MOH guidelines are also apparent on the timing and interval for PAP smears for women in the reproductive age group. Sometimes a biopsy of unhealthy cervical looking tissue may be needed.

For men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM), it is recommended that they do an anal PAP smear to investigate for HPV.

We also provide Rapid HPV Testing (next day result) in all our clinics in Singapore.


How can HPV & Genital Warts be treated?

In most cases, the HPV infection is self-limiting therefore no treatment is deemed necessary.

Unless an individual has issues with antibodies or a weak immune system in general, the body should be able to contain and eradicate the virus from the body in due time.
If an individual has an impaired immune system or a weak immune response, a lingering infection or a co-infection with another sexually transmitted illness can occur.

In cases of genital warts, the treatment options are largely dependent on the severity of the infection. The most common treatment options include creams and paint-on ointments. These induce a state of cell death so warts around the genital will eventually wither and fall off the skin.

Some patients may be offered cryotherapy where the wart is frozen then removed. The wart is frozen prior to that so that there will be no transmission of the wart after.
Apart from the above surgical options for wart removal also exist. This is where a surgeon uses electrocautery or a scalpel and surgically excise warts. See: Genital Warts Removal

Unfortunately, the majority of genital warts or other warts can recur very frequently and is rather common to have warts recur post removal. Sometimes, repeated treatments are required for complete remission, but patients should be aware of the recurrence rates in such an infection.


HPV and Cervical cancer

Some HPV viruses are known as high-risk viruses. This is particularly true in virus strains 16 and 18. This is because it induces changes in the cells in the cervix of a woman and causes cervical if not detected early.

It is in this light that it is recommended that all sexually active women are advised to go for regular PAP smear tests, screen for HPV infections and visit your doctor for HPV vaccination in Singapore.


HPV and PAP Smear

Pap smear is a relatively painless test that can be quickly done. It involves inserting a speculum into the vagina of the patient to allow for inspection then a tool is inserted to obtain scraping. The patient should go back to resume activities of daily living with no hindrance once after the procedure completed by our female doctor.
These scrapings and obtained cells are then examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells.

We also provide Rapid HPV Testing & Pap Smear in all our clinics in Singapore.

HPV and HPV Vaccination

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a group of virus that can cause:

  • Vaginal Cancers
  • Vulvar Cancers
  • Anal Cancers
  • Penile Cancers
  • Oropharyngeal Cancers (cancers of the throat and tongue)
  • Genital warts or Papillomas

HPV vaccination is used to protect against HPV-related diseases and cancers.
To complete the HPV vaccination, 3 doses of injections will be given. The recommended HPV vaccine schedules are:
First dose: During your doctor visit.
Second dose: 1 – 2 months after the first dose
Third dose: 4-5 months after the second dose


Get More protection with New 9-valent HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9)

There are over a hundred strains of HPV and they are each given a designated number e.g. HPV 6 or HPV 16 or HPV52.
HPV strains that cause warts will NOT cause cancers and HPV strains that cause Cancer will NOT cause warts.

Compared to the older Gardasil, the new GARDASIL 9 offers a wider range of protection against HPV strains.
Both Gardasil and Gardasil 9 give you protection against the cancer-causing HPV 16 and 18 and the wart-causing HPV 6 and 11.
Gardasil 9 protects additional 5 other high-risk types: 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58.
Together these types cause about 90% of cervical cancers.

Another HPV vaccine Cervarix, on the other hand, protects only against the commonest cancer-causing HPV 16 and 18. There is no wart protection with Cervarix.
If you are interested in getting the HPV testing & PAP smear, genital warts treatment or HPV vaccine, please visit our STD clinics and speak to our male and female doctors.
If you or your partner are experiencing any possible signs or symptoms of infection, or have had any potential risk exposures, please see our STD doctors today.
Take Care. Be Safe!



Other Interesting Reads:

  1. An Overview of STD – From an STD Doctor
  2. Anal Pap Smear for Anal Cancer Screening
  3. HIV Rash: What You Need To Know
  4. Genital Blister, Genital Ulcers & Genital Warts – What You Need to Know
  5. What You Need To Know about HPV, Cervical Cancer, Pap Smear & HPV Vaccination
  6. 11 Causes of Dyspareunia (Pain During Intercourse)
  7. 10 Common HIV related to Opportunistic Infections
  8. What is HPV Vaccination (Gardasil 9)
  9. 10 Causes of abnormal Vaginal Lumps and Bumps
  10. An Overview of Gonorrhoea
  11. What is the Treatment for Cold Sores? What causes Cold Sores?
  12. Herpes: Everything You Need to Know!
  13. Genital Warts: The Cauliflower-Like Lumps on the Genitals
  14. Syphilis Symptoms (Painless STD Sores & STD Rashes)