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Anal Cancer Risk Factors and Prevention

Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center is dedicated to support you on your health care journey. If you have an increased risk for anal cancer, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns and options. Your health and wellbeing are always our top priority.

What Are the Risk Factors for Anal Cancer?

Anal cancer is most common in adults over 60. Only 20% of all cases are in younger people. There is no direct cause for anal cancer, but there are many factors which increase your likelihood of developing this disease. These include:

  • Age, as most cases of anal cancer are found in people over 50 years of age.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause disease in the genitals, anus and throat.
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a sexually transmitted infection that attacks your body’s immune system.
  • Having a compromised immune system, such as when people take immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant.
  • Tobacco use, especially smoking. Your risk of anal cancer is higher if you are a current smoker than if you are a former smoker.
  • Sexual activity, such as receptive anal intercourse, which can also increase your likelihood of contracting HPV or HIV, and having over 10 sexual partners.
  • Frequent anal redness, swelling, or soreness

How to Prevent Anal Cancer

Since there is no direct cause for anal cancer, there is also no single thing you can do to prevent it. You can, however, significantly reduce your risk. Taking steps to reduce the impact of anal cancer’s risk factors is your greatest step toward prevention. One of the most impactful things you can do is avoid HPV infection. Some of the ways you can lessen your chances of getting HPV include:

  • Get a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. HPV infection can be present for years without causing any symptoms. A sexual partner might not know they have it and could spread it to you. Even when someone does not have warts (or any other symptom), they can still be infected with HPV and pass it on to somebody else. HPV vaccines can only be used to help prevent HPV infection and not treat an existing infection, which means preventative vaccination is important.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners you have, and wait until you are older to start having sex.
  • Avoid sexually transmitted diseases. Limit your exposure to sexually transmitted diseases by avoiding having anal sex with people who have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and/or have had multiple sexual partners.
  • Quit smoking or don’t start. Smoking is a risk factor for many cancer types and living a tobacco-free life will greatly reduce your chance of developing cancer. Learn more about our tobacco recovery program.
  • Use condoms when having sex with a partner until you have both been tested for HPV, HIV and any other sexually transmitted disease. This applies to both anal and vaginal intercourse.

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