How is anal cancer treated?
After the cancer is found and staged, your cancer care team will discuss treatment options with you. Your treatment will depend on many things. The place, type, and stage of the tumor are important. Your age, health, and personal wishes are also taken into account.
The main types of treatment for anal cancer are:
Often the best approach uses 2 or more of these. In the past, surgery was the only way to cure anal cancer, but now most anal cancers are treated instead with both radiation and chemo, This treatment approach, called chemoradiotherapy (or chemoradiation), often does away with the need for surgery.
The goal of treatment may be to cure the cancer. If that’s not possible, the goal may be to keep the tumor from spreading or to keep it from coming back for as long as possible. Another goal may be to relieve symptoms such as pain or bleeding. Often, an important part of the plan is to try to treat the cancer without affecting your being able to control your bowel movements.
Based on your treatment options, you might have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors could include:
- A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy
- A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy
- A surgical oncologist (oncologic surgeon): a doctor who uses surgery to treat cancer
- A colorectal surgeon (proctologist): a doctor who uses surgery to treat diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus
You might have many other specialists on your treatment team as well. See Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care for more on this.
It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options, their goals and likely side effects, with your doctors to help choose the plan that best fits your needs. It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in the section “What are some questions I can ask my doctor about anal cancer?”
If time allows, it’s often a good idea to get a second opinion. This can give you more information and help you feel confident about the treatment plan you choose.
Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial
Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.
If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see “Clinical Trials” to learn more.
Considering complementary and alternative methods
You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.
Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.
Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.
Help getting through cancer treatment
Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.
The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.
Last Medical Review: 06/10/2014
Last Revised: 01/20/2016