Types of treatment for anal cancer
Find out about the main treatments for anal cancer.
Treatment for different types of anal cancer
The treatments described here are for squamous cell cancer of the anus. It is the most common type of anal cancer. Adenocarcinoma of the anus gets treated in the same way as rectal cancer. You can read about adenocarcinoma in our information about bowel cancer.
The main treatments
The main treatment for anal cancer is a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, called chemoradiotherapy. You might have surgery as well.
Treatment by stage
The stage of the cancer helps doctors to decide which treatment to use
- Stage 0 – you have the affected area removed with surgery
- Stage 1 – you have surgery to remove these small cancers. You might have chemoradiotherapy if the cancer is larger than 1cm or affects the anal canal or anal sphincter
- Stages 2 and 3 – you are most likely to have chemoradiotherapy
- Stage 4 – you might have any combination of surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy to try and control the cancer and any symptoms
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating anal cancer section.
The main treatment for anal cancer is a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This is called chemoradiotherapy. You might have surgery if the cancer hasn't gone completely after chemoradiotherapy.
Read more about treatments for anal cancer.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has guidelines for doctors. It recommends that anyone with anal cancer sees a specialist team. Specialists plan your treatment by taking several factors into account, including
- The type and size of the cancer
- Where the cancer is in the anus
- Your general health and other medical conditions
- Whether the cancer has spread
You might find that other people you meet are having different treatment to you. This may be because some of the factors above are different. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse any questions you have about your treatment.
Write down a list of questions you want to ask. Take a close friend or relative with you when you go to the doctor. They can help you to remember the information.
The stage of the cancer means the size of the cancer and whether it has spread. This page gives an overview of treatment for each stage
If you have low grade AIN (AIN 1 or AIN 2) you might not need treatment. Your doctor will know this from a biopsy of the skin around the anus. The abnormal cells can go back to normal on their own, without any treatment. Your doctor will arrange regular checks to monitor your AIN.
If you have high grade AIN (AIN 3) you will need treatment. The abnormal cells are less likely to get better on their own. Doctors usually treat high grade AIN with surgery to remove some of the skin around the anus. Research has looked at other treatments, such as lasers to destroy the cells (laser ablation) and skin ointment (imiquimod).
You might have chemotherapy and radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy) if your cancer
If you have stage 2 or 3 anal cancer, you are likely to have chemoradiotherapy.
The aim of treatment at this stage is to slow down the growth of the cancer. Treatment will also try to relieve any symptoms you have. You might have chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery, or a combination of any of these.
Some people want to get an opinion from a second doctor before they decide about their treatment. If you would like a second opinion, you can ask your specialist or your GP. It can be better to arrange this through your specialist because they can send all your notes and test results to the appointment with you.
Note: A second opinion means just that. It doesn't necessarily mean that the second doctor will take over your care. Your original specialist will usually still manage your treatment.
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