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Anal cancer survivor: My first visit to MD Anderson : Taking into consideration the annual rates at which people, men and women, have contracted anal cancer over the past several years, medical statistics indicate that there will be over five thousand more cases diagnosed this year. While this is a large number of people, in comparison to other forms of cancer, this cancer is considered rare.
Before we go any further, let’s define exactly what anal cancer is. This cancer develops in the area of the anus, which is part of the gastrointestinal tract. It is that part of the body from which fecal matter is discharged from the body when one has a bowel movement
It is also important to know that even though we use the term anal cancer to identify several different kinds of cancer, this cancer is indeed not just one form of cancer but several. This kind of cancer is determined by the kind of cell from which it is developed.
The most common form of anal cancer is that which is called squamous cell carcinoma. This kind of cancer develops in the outer lining of the anal canal.
Cloacogenic carcinoma is a form of anal cancer which is quite similar to squamous cell carcinoma. It is found between the outer part of the anus and the lower part of the rectum. This form of cancer known as adenocarcinoma develops from the mucous glands which are located under the anal lining.
The last two forms of anal cancer are different from the others in that they are skin cancers. The first is basal cell carcinoma. This form of cancer develops in the skin around the anus. The second form of anal cancer which is a skin cancer is known as melanoma and it forms in the cells of the skin or the anal lining that darkens the skin.
The symptoms which appear which might indicate some form of this cancer are bleeding from the anal area, pain and/or pressure in the anal area, itching from the anus, discharge from the anus, a lump or a swelling near the anus, a change in bowel habits or some sort of change in the size of the fecal matter.
Please keep in mind, if a person experiences one or even all of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that they have this cancer. They may be an indication of something completely different. But they are an indication that a visit to one’s doctor is indicated.
There are different ways in which anal cancer are treated, depending upon the type and on the stage which it has reached. Some times doctors will advise surgery, usually followed by radiation and chemotherapy, some times radiation and chemotherapy without surgery. The doctors will help and advise, but the final decision will be up to the patient.
Anal Cancer Treatment
The treatment for anal cancer actually depends on several factors — the location of the cancer, the size of the tumor and the overall health of the patient. Usually the doctors work together with the patient to decide the best possible treatment plan. There are primarily three types of treatment for anal cancer and they are surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Surgery : The type of surgery depends upon the stage of the cancer. Early stage cancer or in situ cancer is treated by removing the cancerous cells along with a small area of the surrounding tissue mass. Thereafter, the patient has to have regular follows ups for screening and subsequent removal of cancerous tissue.
Patients in later stages of cancer first undergo a small surgery wherein a piece of the tissue is removed for biopsy. Thereafter chemotherapy and radiation are given in combination. Patients who have combination therapy invariably are not subjected to treatment through major surgery. However, patients who cannot have chemotherapy and radiation therapy may have to undergo major surgery.
Usually this happens when the cancer is still present after the initial treatment or there is a relapse after the treatment is completed. In case the cancer is recurrent, the patient may have to undergo a colostomy where the anus, rectum and part of the colon are removed; and an opening is created in the abdomen so that feces can be collected in a bag. Even lymph nodes are removed in this procedure.
Radiation Therapy : This therapy involves using high energy X-rays to kill the cancer. The most common type of radiation is known as external beam radiation therapy wherein the radiation is given through an external machine. However, at times radiation can be given through implants this type of therapy is known as internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy.
This therapy has side effects which include fatigue, stomach problems, skin reaction, anal irritation, and discomfort when passing feces. Sometimes, scar tissue can form and this can cause problems with bowel movements. However, most of the side effects disappear once the therapy is over.
Chemotherapy : Here drugs are used to kill the cancer cells. The drug is intravenously fed into the blood stream and target only cancer cells. This treatment is highly effective when combined with radiation therapy. The benefit of the combination ensures that lower doses of radiation are used and the chances of destroying the cancerous tissue completely are very high.
Patients who are HIV positive are given low doses of chemotherapy and radiation therapy but it depends on how badly the immune system is compromised by the HIV. Side effects of chemotherapy include fatigue, possibility of infection, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. However, these side effects are dependent on the overall health of the patient and usually disappear once the therapy is completed.
Anal cancer survivor: My first visit to MD Anderson : When Michele Longabough’s anal cancer returned, her doctors told her that she needed to go to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for her anal cancer treatment. Michele and her husband, Jerry, made the eight hour drive for her appointments. It wasn’t an easy trip, but it was worth it, she says.
“The confidence that I feel in the care that I receive here knowing that everything is being done can’t be measured,” she says.
Read her story:
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