Anal Cancer Overview

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Treating Anal Cancer TOPICS

How is anal cancer treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

About treatment

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.

Last Medical Review: 06/10/2014
Last Revised: 01/06/2015