Signs and Symptoms of Anal Cancer

Sometimes anal cancer causes no symptoms at all. But bleeding is often the first sign of the disease. The bleeding is usually minor. At first, most people assume the bleeding is caused by hemorrhoids (painful, swollen veins in the anus and rectum that may bleed). Hemorrhoids are a benign and fairly common cause of rectal bleeding.

Important symptoms of anal cancer include:

  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Itching in or around the rectum
  • A lump or mass at the anal opening
  • Pain or a feeling of fullness in the anal area
  • Narrowing of stool or other changes in bowel movements
  • Abnormal discharge from the anus
  • Incontinence of stool (loss of bowel control)
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin areas

Most often these types of symptoms are more likely to be caused by benign (non-cancer) conditions, like hemorrhoids, anal fissures, or anal warts. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to have them checked by a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

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.

Czito BG, Ahmed S, Kalady MF, and Eng C. Chapter 64: Cancer of the anal region. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019.

Goodman KA, Kachnic LA, Czito BG. Chapter 76: Cancer of the anal canal. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Elsevier: 2020.

National Cancer Institute Physician Data Query (PDQ). Anal Cancer Treatment. 2020. Updated November 25, 2019. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/anal/patient/anal-treatment-pdq#_1 on March 26, 2020.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Anal Carcinoma. V.1.2020. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/anal.pdf on March 26, 2020.

Last Revised: September 9, 2020

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