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While anal cancer is fairly rare, it made headlines when “Desperate Housewives” star Marcia Cross revealed she had undergone treatment for the disease. Actress Farah Fawcett died from anal cancer in 2009.

Anal cancer is rare in people younger than 35 and is found mainly in older adults around age 60. It is also more common in white women and black men.

According to a 2019 study, anal cancer diagnoses climbed 2.7% per year between 2001 and 2015. Black men born after the mid-1980s are five times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease compared to those born in the 1940s, and people in their 50s and 60s are twice as likely to die from the disease.

Anal cancer primarily affects postmenopausal women and, like in Cross’s case, almost all cases are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). HIV-positive individuals and sexually active gay men are also at higher risk for the disease.

If caught early, anal cancer is very treatable. Most commonly treated with chemotherapy and radiation, early or middle stage disease has about an 80% to 95% five-year survival rate. If the cancer is not caught early, survival odds decrease and patients usually have to have surgery to remove their anus and rectum.

While there are currently no screening guidelines for anal cancer, the HPV vaccine can prevent development of the disease. It is also important to have routine checkups, including rectal and cervical exams and Pap smears. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing:
• Bleeding from the rectum
• Lumps or bumps in the rectal area
• Pain in the rectal area that doesn’t resolve

The American Cancer Society predicts more than 6,000 women and more than 3,000 men will be diagnosed with anal cancer in 2021.