Anal cancer screening can potentially detect early-stage cancer in healthy individuals who do not have symptoms. Sometimes, the condition will produce signs that lead an individual to see a physician, but some types of anal cancer do not cause symptoms until the cancer reaches an advanced stage. Because tumors tend to be most receptive to treatment during its early stages, screening can be important. However, anal cancer is relatively rare, so screening is generally recommended only for specific individuals with certain known risk factors, rather than for the general public.
Current anal cancer screening methods and guidelines include:
- Digital (finger) rectal exams (DRE) – Performed annually for men over age 50
- Comprehensive pelvic exams that include DREs – Initially performed when a woman becomes sexually active and annually thereafter
- Anal cytology (Pap smear) – Performed for certain high-risk individuals at a physician-determined frequency
When performing a DRE, a physician will insert a gloved, lubricated finger into a patient’s rectum to feel for growths, lumps and other abnormalities. In addition to an annual DRE, some experts recommend anal cancer screening in the form of an anal Pap smear for men who have sexual intercourse with men, women who have had cervical or vulvar cancer, anyone who is HIV-positive, anyone who has received an organ transplant and some individuals who have a history of anal growths (warts or polyps). To take an anal Pap smear, a physician will swab the anal lining to collect a small sample of cells for later evaluation under a microscope. If cellular abnormalities are detected, a biopsy may be ordered.
The researchers and clinicians in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center are dedicated to continually improving the screening techniques for anal cancer in order to detect and address the condition as early as possible. Our multispecialty tumor board includes surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists with extensive experience that is focused specifically on diagnosing and providing treatment to those with anal cancer. Working as a cohesive team, these experts are gaining ground by continually broadening the knowledge base with a goal of one day finding a cure.