Anal Cancer Overview

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

Can anal cancer be prevented?

Since some people with anal cancer have no known risk factors, there is no way to completely prevent this disease. But the best way to reduce the risk of anal cancer is to avoid HIV or HPV infection. The risk of these is higher for those who have sex with many partners and those who have unprotected anal sex.

In people infected with HIV, the use of highly active antiretroviral treatment (also called HAART) can lower the risk of a kind of anal pre-cancer and the risk of HPV infection.

While condoms (rubbers) can protect against HPV, recent research has shown that they do not offer complete protection. That is because this virus can be spread by skin contact from areas that are not covered by the condom. Still, it is important to use condoms to protect against AIDS and other diseases that are passed on through some body fluids. People can have HPV for years without having any symptoms. So it can be nearly impossible to know whether a sex partner is infected with HPV.

A vaccine called Gardasil® can help protect against infection with HPV subtypes 16 and 18 (as well as subtypes 6 and 11). At first it was only approved for use in women to prevent cervical cancer, but it has also been shown to prevent other cancers and pre-cancers caused by HPV. It is now also approved for use in both men and women to prevent anal cancers and pre-cancers. To work best, the vaccine should be given before a person starts having sex.

Cervarix® is an HPV vaccine that can also be used to prevent infection with HPV types 16 and 18. Although it is only approved by the FDA to help prevent cervical cancers and pre-cancers, it was shown in a study to be helpful in preventing anal cancers and pre-cancers.

Stopping smoking also lowers the risk of many types of cancer, including anal cancer.

Last Medical Review: 01/14/2013
Last Revised: 04/18/2014