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Anal Cancer Signs, Symptoms and Types

Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center’s patient-focused approach is dedicated to all aspects of your care. If you have symptoms or are concerned about the risk factors, make an appointment to talk with your doctor.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Anal Cancer?

Anal cancer may not cause symptoms, however the first sign some may have is anal bleeding. It is usually minor and might only occur during a bowel movement. Many people assume anal bleeding is caused by hemorrhoids, painful and swollen veins in the anus and rectum that are benign and a common cause for bleeding.

In addition to bleeding, other symptoms of anal cancer can include:

  • Itching around the anus
  • A lump or mass at the anal opening
  • Pain or a feeling of fullness in the anal area
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Abnormal discharge from the anus
  • Loss of control over your bowels
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin areas

These symptoms are more likely to be caused by benign conditions, like hemorrhoids, anal fissures or anal warts. Nonetheless, over 50% of anal cancer diagnoses are detected after the cancer has progressed beyond its initial site because its symptoms could be explained by the benign causes or because people may feel some embarrassment around getting their condition evaluated. If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to have them checked by your doctor.

Types of Anal Cancer

There are four main types of anal cancer:

  • Squamous cell cancer (carcinoma) is the most common type of anal cancer and forms in the cells that line the anus. Around 90% of all anal cancer cases are squamous cell.
  • Carcinoma in situ refers to an early stage of anal cancer or precancerous cells. They are only on the surface cells of the anal canal. This is sometimes called Bowen’s disease.
  • Adenocarcinomas develop in the glands around the anus.
  • Skin cancer, including basal cell and melanoma, can occur on the anus and is often detected when it is in advanced stages.

Your treatment will depend on the anal cancer type and stage. Learn more about anal cancer treatment.

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