Can Anal Cancer Be Prevented?

Since the cause of many cases of anal cancer is unknown, it’s not possible to prevent this disease completely. But there are things you can do that might lower your risk of anal cancer.

Infection with HPV increases the risk of anal cancer. HPV infection can be present for years without causing any symptoms, so the absence of visible warts can’t be used to tell if someone has HPV. Even when someone doesn’t have warts (or any other symptom), he (or she) can still be infected with HPV and pass it on to somebody else.

HPV vaccines

Vaccines are available that protect against certain HPV infections. They protect against infection with HPV subtypes 16 and 18. Some can also protect against infections with other HPV subtypes, including some types that cause anal and genital warts.

These vaccines can only be used to help prevent HPV infection – they do not help treat an existing infection. To work best, the vaccine should be given before a person becomes sexually active.

To learn more, see HPV Vaccines.

Condom use

Condoms may provide some protection against HPV (and HIV), but they don’t prevent infection completely.

One study found that when condoms are used correctly they can lower the genital HPV infection rate in women – but they must be used every time sex occurs. This study did not look at the effect of condom use on anal HPV infection.

Condoms can’t protect completely because they don’t cover every possible HPV-infected area of the body, such as skin of the genital or anal area. HPV can still be passed from one person to another by skin to skin contact with an HPV-infected area of the body that is not covered by a condom. Still, condoms may provide some protection against HPV. Male condom use also seems to help genital HPV infections clear (go away) faster in both women and men.

Condom use is also important because it can help protect against AIDS and other sexually transmitted illnesses that can be passed on through some body fluids.

Treating HIV

For people infected with HIV, it’s very important to take medicines (known as highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART) to help keep the infection under control and prevent it from progressing to AIDS. This also lowers the risk of long-term HPV infection and anal intraepithelial neoplasia (a kind of anal pre-cancer), which might help lower the risk of anal cancer.

Not smoking

Smoking is a known risk factor for anal cancer. Stopping smoking greatly reduces the risk of developing anal cancer and many other cancers.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: July 8, 2020

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