Anal cancer is considered rare.
The American Cancer Society estimated that in 2013 there would be about 7000 new cases. I was one of those. They also estimated that there would be about 900 deaths (2/3 of those would be women). I didn’t want to be one of those.
My surgeon told me that about 90% of anal cancers are caused by HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). She said that nearly everyone has some type of HPV but there’s no way to determine what subtype(s) we might get.
I wanted to know more so I began researching. Those that know me well know that I educate myself when I have questions. I learned that about 79 million Americans are currently infected with a HPV. That’s mind-boggling! And, that number increases by about 14 million each year.
More about HPV … HPV was named “human papilloma virus” because a papilloma is a benign wart-like growth, and some of these particular viruses cause warts.
Plantar warts (those seed-like painful things commonly found on feet) are caused by HPV types 1, 2, 4, 60, or 63.
Genital warts are caused by two other subtypes.
Although symptoms can be something as benign as the warts, most people never have any symptoms and the body usually clears the virus within 2 years. But, the thing is, there are over 100 subtypes of HPV and some do cause cancer. The cancer-causing types are:
- HPV 16
- HPV 18
- HPV 31
- HPV 33
- HPV 45
Anal cancer is primarily caused by HPV 16 (but also HPV 18). I can remember that it’s “16” because I think of it as the “not-so-sweet 16”.
Contagious? Yes. HPV is passed from person-to-person. The contact doesn’t need to be sexual. The virus can be passed through sex but it can also be transmitted from:
- mother to child during pregnancy
- genitals to hands
- hands to genitals
- blood transmission
- and actually any type of skin-to-skin contact with an area currently infected.
There IS A VACCINE available for nine of the subtypes. Remember the television and magazine ads about Gardasil? That’s the vaccine that I’m talking about.
The ads were primarily geared toward teenage girls but the current recommendation is for boys as well. The vaccine is given in 3 doses over a period of 6 months.
- Although condoms don’t completely protect, they do help. In general, condoms are only 80% effective when used 100% of the time. And remember, having multiple sex partners not only increases the risk of this cancer, it increases the likelihood of HIV.
- It’s not fully understood why, but uncircumcised men are more likely to be infected with HPV and pass it on to their partners.
- Here’s something else that I found odd … If a woman has had some type of “female” cancer, her likelihood of developing anal cancer increases. This is because those cancers are usually caused by one of the HPVs too. BUT, men who develop penile cancer (also usually caused by HPV) do not necessarily have an increased risk. Weird huh?
- Smokers have a higher risk of anal cancer.
- It’s more common in women than men. Unless you’re an African-American. Then it’s more prevalent in men.
- Participation in anal sex increases risk.
- The virus can lie dormant for years.
I do not know, but I do sometimes wonder, was the source of my HPV something I did or didn’t do?
…. the questions play over and over in my mind
(Have I had more than one sexual partner over the years? “Yes.”
Ever had anal sex? “Yes.”
Ever had sex with an uncircumcised man? “No.”
Participated in sex without a condom? “Yes.”
Received the vaccine? “No.”)
Maybe it was just my luck-of-the-draw. I will never know, but for whatever reason, l got HPV. And, my body did not clear it. I got cancer. There are no guarantees. It sucks, but that’s the way it is.
So my recommendation is, do not have multiple sex partners, put down the cigarettes, and do not have anal sex. Sounds harsh? You gotta trust me on this one … these “vices” are not worth going through chemo and/or radiation. Please re-read the first couple of paragraphs. 🙂
I’m not saying that all anal cancer is caused by HPV, but the majority of cases are caused by it. That has been proven.
How does HPV work? The virus makes certain proteins that can destroy tumor suppressing proteins in healthy cells. So basically, the healthy proteins, that can kill tumors, are inactivated so they can become cancerous.
Preventable? No. At least not completely. Risk factors can be decreased but it’s not preventable. It’s a virus. In fact, nearly every sexually active person will get HPV at some point in their life. To date, there aren’t any blood tests to determine general “HPV status”. HPV tests are available to women — to screen for cervical cancer. Many physicians routinely request this to be a “reflex” test, for their female patients’ annual PAP screenings, if abnormal cells are found. Women need to be proactive about this testing. Please speak with your PCP or OB/GYN about the HPV screening.
If you have any questions that I may be able to answer, please contact me.
Don’t be afraid; just believe — Mark 5:36b