Anal cancer is rare in individuals under 35 years, with the average age of diagnosis being people in their early 60s. Data from 2023 shows that the risk of receiving a diagnosis of anal cancer is 1 in 500.

These figures come from the American Cancer Society (ACS).

There are two types of anal cancercancer of the anal canal and cancer of the perianal skin.

This article discusses how likely a person is to develop anal cancer, and how people can reduce their risk of developing the condition.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Anal cancer is relatively rare. It is less common than cancers of the colon and rectum, affecting about 1 in 500 people in America in their lifetime.

The ACS estimates that in 2023, there will be 9,760 new diagnoses of anal cancer in the United States, with more than 60% of these being females.

It also estimates there to be 1,870 deaths from anal cancer — 860 in females and 1,010 in males.

The most common type of anal cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. Nearly 9 out of 10 instances of anal cancer in the U.S. are squamous cell carcinoma.

According to data between 2015 and 2019, over 30% of people with anal cancer are between 55 and 64 years.

Certain factors can increase the risk that a person will develop anal cancer. Having one or even a few factors does not mean a person will get cancer.

Some of these include:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): Squamous cell carcinoma, the most common type of anal cancer, holds a strong association with HPV infection. HPV transmits through physical contact. High risk HPV types, such as HPV-16, are most likely to cause anal cancer.
  • Anal warts: Some subtypes of HPV can cause anal warts. Infections from HPV can increase the likelihood that they are carrying a type that can cause anal cancer.
  • Smoking: The more a person smokes, the higher their risk of developing anal cancer. Quitting smoking is an effective way to reduce a person’s risk.
  • HIV infections: HIV can increase the risk of a person developing anal cancer compared with those without the infection. HIV lowers immunity. So, anybody with a decreased immune function is also at risk — for example, a person taking medications to suppress their immunity.
  • Gender and race: White females and Black males are more at risk of developing anal cancer than other demographics. Researchers are not entirely sure why this is the case, but some theorize that it is due to unequal access to healthcare, lack of education, and lack of awareness.
  • Sexual activity: Practicing sex without a barrier method and having multiple sexual partners can increase the chance of a person developing anal cancer.

A 5-year relative survival rate is an estimation of the number of individuals who may survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis.

However, these are never definite, as individual cases vary so significantly.

The National Institute of Cancer (NIC) estimates relative survival rates for anal cancer based on the stages of the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program (SEER stages).

SEER stageStage description5-year relative survival rate
Localizedno signs indicate cancer has spread83.3%
Regionalcancer has spread to nearby structures67.3%
Distantcancer reaches distant organs such as the lungs35.9%

These figures only apply to the stage of cancer at the point of diagnosis.

They also do not consider a person’s age or general health, as well as the type of anal cancer they have. It may be the case that a person’s outlook on their condition is better than these figures show.

A person should discuss their individual case and outlook with a doctor.

There are no sure ways to prevent anal cancer. However, there are many things a person can do to reduce their risk.

  • HPV vaccination: This vaccine prevents a person from infection with some types of HPV — primarily those that cause anal cancer and warts.
  • Practicing safe sex: By using barrier protection methods such as condoms, a person can help reduce the risk of catching HPV and, therefore, the risk of developing anal cancer. However, they cannot completely cover every possible site of transmission, so cannot prevent the risk entirely.
  • Not smoking: If a person smokes, stopping smoking greatly reduces the risk of developing many other cancers, not just anal cancer.

The following are common questions and answers about anal cancer.

Is anal cancer curable?

Depending on the individual situation, anal cancer can be curable. Many people who receive a diagnosis can go on to live full lives.

There are many effective treatment options, and doctors may offer them alone or in combination.

The primary methods of treatment include:

How do you get anal cancer?

Most anal cancers are the result of an HPV infection. However, many people with HPV infections do not go on to develop anal cancer.

This happens because some types of HPV make proteins that prevent important anticancer genes from working.

People with lowered immunity are more likely to develop the condition due to their inability to respond to infections such as HPV.

What does anal cancer feel like?

Often, anal cancer does not cause symptoms.

However, if a person does experience symptoms, the first sign is often bleeding from the anus.

Other symptoms a person with anal cancer may experience can be:

Benign anal tumors can also cause these symptoms.

If a person experiences any of these symptoms, they should seek advice from a medical professional.

Anal cancer is relatively rare.

It is more common in people over between 54 and 64 years old, and in white females and Black males.

It has close links to HPV, specifically HPV-16. If doctors detect and diagnose the cancer early, a person may be able to receive effective treatment and continue to live a full life.