The type of treatment that you receive for anal cancer may depend on several factors including the stage and type of the cancer that you have. The goals of treatment may be to cure the cancer, prevent the cancer from spreading, prevent the cancer from returning, and to relieve symptoms. Anal cancer may be treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery, or a combination of therapy types. It is common to receive at least two types of treatment.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be used before a surgery to shrink a tumor to make it easier to be removed. External radiation or internal radiation therapy may be used to treat anal cancer. External radiation delivers radiation from an external source, a machine. External radiation typically uses treatments 5 days per week for about 6 weeks. Internal radiation therapy, brachytherapy, involves implanting radioactive seed pellets in or near the cancer. The seeds deliver a slow dose of radiation. You may receive external radiation, internal radiation, or both.
Chemotherapy uses cancer fighting drugs or combinations of drugs to kill cancer cells. You may receive chemotherapy in the form of pills or they may be injected through a needle. Chemotherapy may be used in combination with radiation therapy or after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
There are several types of surgery for anal cancer. The type of surgery that you have may depend on several factors, including your general health, the size of your tumor, and the location of the tumor. A local resection is a procedure that is used to remove the cancer and the tissue around it. A local resection usually leaves the anus sphincter intact, and following surgery you will be able to have bowel movements.
An abdominoperineal resection (APR) may be used for cancer that has spread. This surgery involves removing the anus and part of the rectum. You will need a colostomy. A colostomy, a bag worn on the outside of the body to collect waste products, is necessary because you will not be able to have bowel movements following an APR. This surgery is not very common today because most people can be treated with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.
Even with treatment, some cases of anal cancer may return. This is termed “recurrent anal cancer.” Your doctor can explain your risk for anal cancer and possible treatments if it does recur.
The experience of anal cancer and cancer treatments can be an emotional process for people with cancer and their loved ones. It is important that you receive support from a positive source. Some people find comfort in their family, friends, counselors, co-workers, and faith. Cancer support groups are another good option. They can be a source of information and support from people who understand what you are experiencing. Ask your doctor for cancer support group locations in your area.