Anal cancer explained: Farrah Fawcett, Marcia Cross and the unspoken HPV cancer

Marcia Cross is recovering from anal cancer, a disease that mainly affects women in their late 50s and 60s.

Cross, 56, posted a picture on Instagram last week revealing she is ‘so grateful and happy to be alive but sad that my hair fell out’.

She then clarified that she is ‘post cancer’ and feeling healthy.

Anal cancer is the same disease that killed Farrah Fawcett at the age of 62 in 2015. 

Nonetheless, after Cross’s post, Google searches rocketed for anal cancer, which is fairly rare and is often confused with other cancers of the colon and rectum. 

What is the difference between colon, rectal and anal cancers? 

While all are distinct, it is possible to have combinations – such as colorectal cancer or anorectal cancer.

Colon cancer and rectal cancer both start internally. They arise from glandular tissue.

The big difference with anal cancer is that it’s external, starting in the squamous cells (i.e. flat cells that are mainly skin cells).

Anal cancer is the only one of the three that is linked to HPV.

This is the picture Marcia Cross posted last week revealing her cancer battle. She captioned it saying she was happily post-cancer but sad to have lost her hair through treatment

This is the picture Marcia Cross posted last week revealing her cancer battle. She captioned it saying she was happily post-cancer but sad to have lost her hair through treatment

This is the picture Marcia Cross posted last week revealing her cancer battle. She captioned it saying she was happily post-cancer but sad to have lost her hair through treatment

Most anal cancer cases are caught late, as was the case for Charlie's Angels star Farrah Fawcett (center), who died of anal cancer at the age of 62 in 2015

Most anal cancer cases are caught late, as was the case for Charlie's Angels star Farrah Fawcett (center), who died of anal cancer at the age of 62 in 2015

Most anal cancer cases are caught late, as was the case for Charlie’s Angels star Farrah Fawcett (center), who died of anal cancer at the age of 62 in 2015

How common is anal cancer? 

Anal canal carcinoma affects 7,270 Americans a year. Around 100 people die a year of anal cancer. 

Roughly two thirds of sufferers are women, and 80 percent of them are in their 60s. 

What causes anal cancer?  

The biggest risk factors for it are anal intercourse and HPV, the most common sexually-transmitted disease in America which affects most adults and is linked to a variety of cancers.

Things that dampen the body’s immune system are also major risk factors. Smoking, for example, weakens the body’s ability to keep HPV at bay. Those who have HIV, which cripples the immune system, have a higher risk, too. 

Having an anal fistula also increases a person’s risk.

What are the symptoms?

Around half of anal cancer cases are detected in the earliest stages. 

As a result, though it is treatable, the survival rate is relatively low: 67 percent live five years after their diagnosis. 

One in five patients do not show symptoms. 

Those who do, likely experience one of the following:

  • Bleeding from the anus or rectum
  • Pain in the anal area
  • A mass or growth in the anal opening
  • Lingering itch in the anal area 
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Narrowing of stools
  • Discharge from the anus
  • Swollen lymph glands in the anal area
Cross said she is 'so grateful and happy to be alive but sad that my hair fell out'. She then clarified that she is 'post cancer' and feeling healthy

Cross said she is 'so grateful and happy to be alive but sad that my hair fell out'. She then clarified that she is 'post cancer' and feeling healthy

Cross said she is ‘so grateful and happy to be alive but sad that my hair fell out’. She then clarified that she is ‘post cancer’ and feeling healthy

How is it treated?

Anal cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. 

For stage 0, before it has spread anywhere, surgery can be a first option, to remove the cancerous cells. 

For stage 1 and 2, if the tumor is small (smaller than one-and-a-half inches), surgery is an option, followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 

If that can’t be done without harming the anal sphincter, radiation therapy is the first option for most. 

Past stage 2, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are recommended.  

After Cross's post, Google searches rocketed for anal cancer, which is fairly rare and is often confused with other cancers of the colon and rectum

After Cross's post, Google searches rocketed for anal cancer, which is fairly rare and is often confused with other cancers of the colon and rectum

After Cross’s post, Google searches rocketed for anal cancer, which is fairly rare and is often confused with other cancers of the colon and rectum

Link hienalouca.com

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