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Anal cancer isn’t common—it accounts for a small fraction of all lower gastrointestinal tract cancers. But rates are rising. Between 2001 and 2015, anal cancer cases rose by 2.7% and deaths went up by 3.1% every year.

Researchers believe this could be because of increased exposure to HPV (human papillomavirus), which is strongly linked to incidence rates of anal cancer, cervical cancer, and other anogenital cancers.

The bottom line is that anal cancer is a serious disease, no matter how rare it is. The more people know about this disease, the more empowered they are to get the right medical care for them and begin healing. Let’s look at what anal cancer is, what causes it, symptoms, and treatment options, including holistic treatments that can help the body heal and recover.

What Is Anal Cancer?

Anal cancer is a malignant growth that forms in the tissues of the anus and anal canal, which is a 1.5-inch tube connecting the rectum to the outside of the body.

The anal canal is lined with squamous cells, which are flat cells found throughout the body, including in the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts, on the surface of the skin, and the lining of the bladder, kidney, cervix, anus, and other hollow organs.

Most anal cancers form in these squamous cells. In fact, squamous cell carcinoma makes up about 70% of cases. The other relatively common type is adenocarcinoma, which forms in the glands around the anus.

What Causes Anal Cancer?

The biggest risk factor for anal cancer is HPV. Globally, 88% of anal cancer cases occur in individuals with an HPV infection.

However, that doesn’t mean people with HPV will end up with anal cancer—only about 9,400 adults in the US are diagnosed each year, making this one of the rarest types of cancer. But it does mean that anyone with an HPV infection should be aware that they have an elevated risk and understand what the signs and symptoms are.

Other risk factors for anal cancer include:

  • Being over the age of 50—most cases are in older adults, and the average age of diagnosis is the early 60s.
  • HIV—individuals with human immunodeficiency virus have a weakened immune system, which is linked with an increased risk of developing anal cancer.
  • Frequent anal redness or swelling—this might be from anal intercourse, with is another risk factor.
  • Smoking cigarettes or using tobacco products—studies show that tobacco smoking is linked to an increased risk for squamous cell carcinoma of the anus and increased mortality.
  • Demographics—white women and black men are the most at risk for developing anal cancer. Most cases occur in women who are white and older than 50.

What Are the Symptoms of Anal Cancer?

If someone has a cancerous growth, they might notice issues related to their bowel movements or the area around their anal canal. Common symptoms of anal cancer include:

  • Anal discharge, such as leaking stool
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Changes in bowel habits such as having to use the bathroom more frequently than normal
  • Very thin stools
  • A lump near the anus
  • Anal itching
  • Pain or pressure in the anal area

The earlier you recognize there’s a problem, the sooner you can get a diagnosis and start a treatment plan.

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Treatment Options for Anal Cancer

When detected early, anal cancer is highly treatable. In traditional oncology, doctors generally recommend surgical removal. A surgeon can take out the cancerous growth along with a small amount of healthy tissue. For a late-stage tumor, an oncologist might recommend having the lower section of the GI tract removed. They also might suggest chemotherapy or radiation therapy to kill cancer cells and stop the tumor from growing.

While these treatments can be effective—the five-year survival rate for a combination of radiation, chemo, and surgery ranges from 72% to 89%—they can lead to serious side effects, such as diarrhea, pain, and bladder infections.

Can Anal Cancer Be Treated Holistically?

Holistic medicine offers an alternative healing path that patients can use along with or instead of traditional treatment options. Here are three non-toxic, evidence-based holistic therapies that can help fight anal cancer and reduce the side effects that come with traditional treatments.

Photodynamic therapy: Light therapy is a safe, non-invasive therapy that can support well-being on a cellular level. Researchers have found that photodynamic therapy combined with red light illumination can help control the disease for as long as four years, without any adverse reactions.

Acupuncture: During an acupuncture session, a licensed professional uses hair-thin needles to trigger specific points along the body’s meridian system, which is a set of energetic pathways. Acupuncture is known to help with a variety of health issues, ranging from insomnia to chronic pain. It can also help alleviate some of the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, such as nausea, fatigue, and depression.

Curcumin: This polyphenolic compound is found in turmeric and acts as a powerful antioxidant. Studies also show that curcumin can help slow the growth of a tumor and induce cancer cell death.

Start Your Healing Journey with a Treatment Plan Designed to Help You Thrive

Being diagnosed with anal cancer can feel overwhelming, but there are solutions for you or your loved one. You can look into traditional treatments, holistic medicine, or both.

To learn more about how holistic cancer therapies can help you on your return to wellness, contact the experienced team at Brio-Medical. We’ll talk to you about your options so you can choose the best path forward. Schedule a free consultation today.

References for anal cancer:

[1] Kang, Yoon-Jung et al. “Anal cancer in high-income countries: Increasing burden of disease.” PloS one vol. 13,10 e0205105. 19 Oct. 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0205105

[2] NCI Staff. “Anal Cancer Incidence and Deaths Are Rising in the United States.” NIH, National Cancer Institute, December 19, 2019, https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2019/anal-cancer-incidence-mortality-rise.

[3] MD Anderson authors. “Anal Cancer.” MD Anderson Cancer Center, The University of Texas, https://www.mdanderson.org/cancer-types/anal-cancer.html. Accessed September 29, 2022.

[4] American Cancer Society authors. “Key Statistics for Anal Cancer.” American Cancer Society, last revised January 12, 2022, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/anal-cancer/about/what-is-key-statistics.html.

[5] Ramamoorthy, Sonia et al. “Tobacco smoking and risk of recurrence for squamous cell cancer of the anus.” Cancer detection and prevention vol. 32,2 (2008): 116-20. doi:10.1016/j.cdp.2008.04.004

[6] Moffitt Cancer Center authors. “Anal Cancer Information.” Moffitt Cancer Center, https://moffitt.org/cancers/anal-cancer/. Accessed September 29, 2022.

[7] Allison, Ron R et al. “Photodynamic therapy for anal cancer.” Photodiagnosis and photodynamic therapy vol. 7,2 (2010): 115-9. doi:10.1016/j.pdpdt.2010.04.002

[8] Shanmugam, Muthu K et al. “The multifaceted role of curcumin in cancer prevention and treatment.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 20,2 2728-69. 5 Feb. 2015, doi:10.3390/molecules20022728

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