Surgery is not always a primary treatment for anal cancer. However, some individuals may be able to have surgery depending on the size and location of the cancerous tumor.

Anal cancer is less common than colon or rectum cancer, but reported cases are rising. It primarily affects individuals aged 55–64 years, and two-thirds of these cases involve women.

This article examines the different types of surgery for anal cancer. We also cover what to expect from these surgical procedures and their risks and side effects.

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A combination of chemotherapy and targeted radiation treatment is the most common treatment for anal cancer.

However, sometimes a person with this disease can have surgery, which can remove small tumors that have not spread to nearby organs or the sphincter muscles.

Learn more about radiation therapy for cancer.

There are two different types of surgery available for individuals with anal cancer.

Local resection

A local resection is where a surgeon removes the cancerous tumor from the anus. They will also remove some of the healthy tissue surrounding it.

Surgeons use this type of surgery when the cancer is small and has not yet spread to other body areas. Local resection is most common for treating tumors in the lower part of the anus or the perianal area.

A local resection procedure often keeps the muscles responsible for controlling bowel movements, known as the sphincter muscles, intact. Therefore, individuals with a local resection should still be capable of regular bowel movements after surgery. In cases where cancer is present in the sphincter muscles, resection is not possible.

Abdominoperineal resection

In an abdominoperineal resection, a surgeon makes an incision in the person’s abdomen and anus to remove the anus, rectum, and part of the sigmoid colon. The latter is the S-shaped part of the colon connecting to the rectum. Occasionally, surgeons may also remove some of the surrounding lymph nodes.

Surgeons often use this type of surgery when other treatments, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy, do not work. A person may also have this procedure if the cancer returns.

Due to the removal of the anus, surgeons need to allow another way for stool to leave the body. They do this by attaching the end of the colon to a small hole called a stoma. A colostomy bag attaches over the opening, which collects a person’s stool.

Learn more about colostomies.

Before arranging the surgery, a doctor will go through the treatment options with the person. They will also discuss any risks and side effects of the surgical procedure.

Doctors may instruct someone to prepare for surgery by:

  • limiting their food and drink intake
  • preparing the bodily area that surgeons will operate on
  • giving blood tests, X-rays, and other medical tests
  • giving an individual an enema the night before the surgery

During the procedure, the individual will be under the effects of a general anesthetic and be unconscious. Following the surgery, a healthcare professional will take them into a recovery room. A person should expect to stay in the hospital for several days after the surgery.

Learn more about the effects of general anesthetic.

The following are possible complications of anal cancer surgery:

Following the surgery, a person will likely receive aftercare, which may involve different tests to monitor the cancer.

Additionally, those with a colostomy bag may take some time to adapt. A colostomy bag needs changing every 1–3 days, and a doctor or nurse will show a person how to manage this before they leave the hospital.

A doctor will also advise on any necessary diet changes. A person should ensure they have a balanced diet following anal cancer surgery.

Additionally, individuals who now have a colostomy bag may need to avoid foods that cause gas. This may include:

Researchers from a 2022 study found a 5-year survival rate of 73% in individuals who had treatment for anal cancer.

Learn more about foods to include and limit in a colostomy diet.

The Anal Cancer Foundation offers a Peer-to-Peer Support Program. This allows individuals to connect with others in their area who also have experience with anal cancer.

Additionally, the National Cancer Institute offers a list of organizations that provide emotional, practical, and financial support for individuals with cancer and their families.

Below, we answer some frequently asked questions about anal cancer surgery.

What is the survival rate for anal cancer?

Research from 2022 suggests that anal cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 73%.

Can surgery cure anal cancer?

Surgery may help remove cancerous tumors from the body. However, the disease can return even after tumor removal.

Surgery is not usually the first line of treatment for anal cancer. However, doctors may recommend this approach depending on the size and location of the tumor. Additionally, a person may receive this treatment when other treatments have not worked.

An individual can seek various support groups to receive help and support following anal cancer surgery.