Anal Cancer: Treatment Choices

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel, how your body will look and work after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities.

Your cancer care provider is the best person to answer your questions. He or she can tell you the goal of treatment, what your treatment choices are, how well they may work, and what the risks and side effects are. Your healthcare provider may suggest a specific treatment. Or he or she may offer more than one and help you decide which one you’d like to use.

It can be hard to make this decision. It’s important to take the time you need to make the best choice. Talk with your healthcare provider about how much time you can take to explore your options.

Types of treatment for anal cancer

The type of treatment that's best for you depends on a number of factors. These include the type of tumor, its size and location, and whether it has spread beyond your anus. Factors also include your age, overall health, and what side effects you can stand.

Different types of treatment work in different ways. Below is a list of anal cancer treatments and how they work. You may have more than 1 of these treatments:

  • Radiation therapy. This treatment uses high-energy rays, like X-rays, to kill cancer cells. This is a common treatment for anal cancer. It's often used along with chemotherapy (chemo). This is called chemoradiation.

  • Chemotherapy. Chemo is the use of medicines that kill cancer cells. It can destroy a tumor, keep it from growing, or cause the tumor to shrink. Chemo combined with radiation therapy (chemoradiation) is used to treat, and even cure, most anal cancers without the need for surgery.

  • Surgery. Surgery is done to remove the tumor, while leaving as much of the anus as possible intact. In most cases, surgery for anal cancer isn't needed. If surgery is an option for you, know exactly what will be done and how stool will come out of your body after surgery.

Second opinion before deciding on a treatment plan

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with anal cancer, you may want to consider getting a second opinion. The peace of mind a second opinion provides may be well worth the effort. 

Clinical trials

Research is ongoing in the field of anal cancer. New medicines and treatments are tested in clinical trials. Before starting treatment, ask your healthcare provider if there are any clinical trials you should look into.

Working with your healthcare provider

Your healthcare provider will help you make a treatment plan. Talking about your treatment choices will be one of the most important meetings you'll have with your healthcare provider. Ask any questions you might have and be sure you understand the answers. You may want to include a family member or friend in these discussions.

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