Anal cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the tissues of the anus, the opening where the gastrointestinal tract exits the body. The survival rate for people with this disease may depend on various factors, such as the stage of the disease and response to treatment.

Share on Pinterest
Yasser Chalid/Getty Images

This form of cancer is fairly rare and is much less common than colon or rectal cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, there are more than 9,400 new cases of anal cancer each year and around 1,700 deaths. The condition typically affects older adults.

Generally, the anal cancer survival rates are positive, with around 8 in 10 people surviving for at least 5 years after diagnosis.

This article looks at anal cancer survival rates and what these numbers can mean.

Anal cancer begins in the anus. Doctors divide it into two categories according to where the disease begins.

Cancers of the anal canal begin above the anal verge, while cancers of the perianal skin begin below the anal verge. The anal verge is a point in the anal canal where the flat squamous cells of the lower anal canal join with the skin outside the anus.

Almost all anal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas and begin in the squamous cells lining the anal canal. However, anal cancer can sometimes be an adenocarcinoma, which begins in the cells lining the upper part of the anus near the rectum.

Symptoms

Symptoms of anal cancer can include:

Learn more about anal cancer.

Doctors use a staging system to describe how far cancer has spread in the body. This helps them understand how serious the disease is and what treatments may help.

There are different systems for staging cancers according to results from physical exams, biopsies, and imaging tests. Doctors typically use the American Joint Committee on Cancer’s TNM system for anal cancer.

This system includes the following information:

  • T, or tumor: This refers to the size of the tumor and if it has extended to nearby structures or organs.
  • N, or lymph nodes: This refers to any spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • M, or metastasis: This refers to any spread to distant lymph nodes or organs.

The higher the number associated with these letters, the more advanced the cancer. After a doctor has determined a person’s TNM categories, they combine this information into a stage grouping.

Cancer survival rates indicate the percentage of individuals with the same cancer type and stage who are alive 5 years following their diagnosis.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates and cannot tell an individual how long they will live. Survival depends on multiple factors, and no one can say exactly how long a person will live.

Doctors look at survival rates by using data from large groups of people. Because anal cancer is less common, experts may find the survival rates more challenging to estimate than other, more common cancers.

However, they may explain how successful treatment can be in some cases.

That said, the source of survival rate information does not use the same cancer TNM staging system. The American Cancer Society uses information from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program database. Instead of grouping cancers into TNM stages, it groups them as follows:

  • Localized: The cancer has not spread outside of the anal area.
  • Regional: The disease has affected nearby tissues or lymph nodes.
  • Distant: The cancer has metastasized to areas of the body, such as distant lymph nodes and organs such as the liver or lungs.

According to SEER figures for 2012–2018, these are the survival rates for anal cancer:

  • localized: 83.3%
  • regional: 67.3%
  • distant: 35.9%
  • all stages combined: 70.1%

A person should take the following into account when considering these statistics:

  • Diagnosis: The numbers only apply to the cancer stage when a doctor first diagnoses anal cancer. They do not apply to cases where cancer grows, spreads, or returns following treatment.
  • Advancements: These numbers show the survival rate for people who received a cancer diagnosis at least 5 years ago. As treatments improve over time with research and advancements, people now have a better outlook than these statistics indicate.
  • Other factors: Experts base these numbers on how far cancer has spread. They do not consider other important factors, such as the type of anal cancer, how well it responds to treatment, and a person’s age and general health.

Multiple factors affect a person’s survival following a cancer diagnosis. These can include:

  • their overall health
  • their age
  • the type of cancer they have
  • available treatments
  • how they respond to treatment
  • the cancer stage
  • how soon they begin treatment

Typically, the earlier a doctor diagnoses cancer, the better the outcome and survival.

Generally, doctors can successfully treat the earlier stages of anal cancer. If someone has a stage 0 tumor, they may only need surgery to remove the growth and rarely require radiation therapy.

In stages 2 and 3, combining treatments is a typical option that may increase survival rates. These strategies typically involve surgery and radiation therapy.

In stage 4, treatment aims to control the disease and relieve symptoms, helping someone survive for as long as possible. In these later-stage cancers, immunotherapy is another treatment option, as is taking part in clinical trials for new treatments.

Immunotherapy focuses on enhancing the body’s immune system to kill the cancer cells.

Yes, early stage anal cancer is curable.

An individual may require only surgery if the cancer has not spread. Though later stages of the disease may be curable, this depends on how well a person responds to treatment.

Anyone with symptoms of anal cancer or concerns about their condition should speak with a doctor.

A doctor can diagnose the condition and begin treatment as soon as possible or rule out any other underlying health conditions that could be causing symptoms.

Anal cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer affecting the tissues of the anus.

Overall survival rates are positive. If the disease has not spread, approximately 8 in 10 people live for 5 years following their diagnosis. On average, almost 7 in 10 individuals live for five years following their diagnosis.

Treatment is most successful earlier in the course of the disease. Therefore, anyone experiencing symptoms of anal cancer should speak with a doctor as soon as possible.