- Anal cancer is on the rise in the United States, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
- After examining cancer diagnosis and death data from 2001 to 2016, certain types of anal cancer had doubled while others had tripled over the time period. Anal cancer deaths increased too.
- HPV, a common sexually-transmitted disease, is linked to most cases of anal cancer.
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Anal cancer is on the rise in the United States, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
After examining cancer diagnosis and death data from 2001 to 2016 and comparing it to years prior, the researchers determined the number of localized anal cancer rates, where the cancer was found only in the anus, had doubled and that distant anal cancer rates, where the cancer spread to other parts of the body, had tripled.
In total, there were an estimated 69,000 cases of anal cancer and more than 12,000 anal cancer-related deaths during that 15-year period.
The researchers also found that the most common strain of anal cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, increased by 2.7% every year from 2001 through 2016 and that anal cancer death rates increased 3.1% annually for that same time period.
Black people between the ages of 23 and 38 and white women experienced the greatest rise in anal cancer over the 15-year period, the study found.
The data supports a troubling trend doctors have been experiencing over the past decade, Dr. Virginia Shaffer, a colorectal surgeon and associate professor in Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute who wasn’t involved in the study, told CNN.
“It gives us numbers to what we were already expecting,” she said.
HPV, the most common STD in the United States, is linked to 91% of anal cancers, according to the CDC.
Annual pap smears can help doctors detect cervical cancer, another cancer linked to the HPV, in women, but anal cancer testing isn’t as common. According to Planned Parenthood, there are at least 12 types of HPV that can lead to cancer, including anal, cervical, mouth, and throat cancer.
Not all HPV cases are cancer-causing though. An estimated 79 million men and women have HPV at any given time, according to the American Sexual Health Association, and those cases include more than 100 types of HPV.
HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact and although condoms can prevent the spread of HPV, the contraceptive isn’t guaranteed to stop a person from getting it, according to Planned Parenthood. The HPV vaccine is effective at preventing the disease and cancers caused by it, but it has only been available since 2006 so people who were already exposed aren’t as protected.
Most of the time, people with HPV don’t show any symptoms, which could be why the STD is so common. Some types of HPV can cause genital, foot, or hand warts.
Most people with the infection don’t experience any serious health consequences. In fact, people with low-risk HPV often see the STD go away on its own with no treatment, according to Planned Parenthood, and 9 out of 10 HPV cases resolve themselves in about two years’ time, the CDC website noted.
Kristoffer Tripplaar / AtlanticLIVE
In June, “Desperate Housewives” actress Marcia Cross talked about her own anal cancer diagnosis, which she recieved a year and a half prior.
Cross appeared on “CBS This Morning,” saying that doctors believe her anal cancer came from the same strain of HPV that caused her husband Tom Mahoney’s throat cancer. Mahoney was diagnosed in 2009 and went into remission after treatment, but his cancer came back around the time Cross was diagnosed with anal cancer, People reported.
“I know there are people who are ashamed. You have cancer! You have to then also feel ashamed? Like you did something bad, you know, because it took up residence in your anus? I mean, come on, really. There’s enough on your plate,” Cross told CBS News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook.
Just last week, she spoke out again at The Atlantic’s People v Cancer conference in New York, saying she “highly recommends” the digital rectal exam that first picked up on her cancer, in addition to regular pap smears for women.