According to recent data, incidence rates for anal cancer have seen a steep growth in the United States, and mortality rates for this form of cancer have more than doubled.

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Anal cancer mortality has been on the rise in the U.S.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is perhaps the most common sexually transmitted infection.

Although it does not usually have a significant impact on long-term health, it can sometimes lead to more serious outcomes.

HPV is a top risk factor for cervical cancer, oral cancer, and anal cancer. However, one recent study found that more than 70% of adults in the United States remain unaware of these risks.

This fact is particularly worrying in light of even more recent revelations regarding the incidence and mortality rates of anal cancer in the U.S., as reported in a new study paper in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study — from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston — analyzed trends in U.S. incidence rates for squamous cell carcinoma of the anus, usually caused by HPV, over a period of around 15 years.

“It is concerning that over 75% of U.S. adults do not know that HPV causes this preventable cancer. Educational campaigns are needed to increase awareness about the rising rates of anal cancer and importance of immunization,” says lead study author Ashish Deshmukh, Ph.D.

The researchers accessed the U.S. Cancer Statistics dataset to analyze national trends in incidence and mortality rates of anal cancer in 2001–2015 and 2001–2016, respectively. Their findings were not encouraging.

During these periods, the team identified 68,809 cases of anal cancer and 12,111 deaths to it.

Their analysis of the data revealed that in 2001—2016, diagnoses of anal cancer and anal cancer mortality rates more than doubled for adults aged 60–69. In fact, mortality rates for this form of cancer increased by 3.1% per yer.

Incidence rates rose by nearly 3% per year. Together, these data suggest that anal cancer may be one of the most rapidly rising causes of cancer incidence and mortality.

When the investigators looked at the data split according to people’s race and ethnicity, as well as biological sex and age group, they noticed that the risk of anal cancer had increased fivefold among black males born from the mid-1980s onward, compared with those born around 1946. For white males and females born after 1960, the risk had doubled.

“Given the historical perception that anal cancer is rare, it is often neglected,” says Deshmukh.

Our findings of the dramatic rise in incidence among black millennials and white [females], rising rates of distant stage disease, and increases in anal cancer mortality rates are very concerning.”

Ashish Deshmukh, Ph.D.

Following on from these findings, the researchers argue that doctors may want to start screening for anal cancer among patients they consider to be at risk.

“Screening for anal cancer is not currently performed, except in certain high risk groups, and the results of this study suggest that evaluation of broader screening efforts should be considered,” says senior study author Dr. Keith Sigel, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, NY.