• Clinical science

Anal cancer


Anal cancer is a rare tumor. Risk factors include infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), immunodeficiency, and receptive anal intercourse. The most common clinical features are rectal bleeding (up to 45% of cases), pruritus ani, and tenderness or pain in the anal area. Anal cancer presents mainly as squamous cell carcinoma and in rare cases as adenocarcinoma or other non-epidermoid cancers. Depending on the exact localization and stage, it requires excision and/or radiochemotherapy. If the condition is treated in its early stages, the prognosis is favorable.


  • Incidence: ∼ 8000 cases diagnosed per year in the U.S.
  • More common in HIV-positive individuals and men who have sex with men


Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.



Clinical features

  • Rectal bleeding (most important initial symptom)
  • A lump or tumor around the anus
  • Pruritus ani
  • Tenderness, pain in the anal area
  • Fecal incontinence
  • History of anorectal condyloma



  • Physical examination
  • Invasive procedures
    • Anoscopy
    • Biopsy for histology (small tumors are fully excised)
  • Staging: endosonography, abdominal ultrasound, abdominal CT, pelvic MRI, chest x-ray/CT



  • Histology: primarily squamous cell carcinoma; rarely adenocarcinoma or other non-epidermoid cancers
  • Location
    • Above the anal verge → Anal canal tumors
    • Below the anal verge → Anal margin tumors



  • Anal canal cancer
    • Treatment of choice: radiochemotherapy
    • Recurrent cancers are treated surgically.
  • Anal margin cancer
    • If possible, local excision with safety margin
    • Advanced tumor
      • (Neoadjuvant) radiochemotherapy
      • Subsequent resection depending on the size of the tumor
      • In some cases, remission may be achieved with radiochemotherapy alone.



  • Metastasis
    • Local invasion of adjacent organs
    • Lymphatic spread (30% of patients): perirectal, paravertebral, inguinal, femoral
    • Hematogenous spread (< 10% of patients): liver, bone, lung


We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.