Testing for cancer when there are no symptoms is known as screening. At present, screening for anal cancer is not recommended by any clinical bodies in any country. However, researchers are currently investigating the usefulness of screening and vaccination for anal cancer, particularly for high-risk groups.
Potential screening tests
The screening tests that are being studied include:
- digital anorectal examination (DARE) – the doctor inserts a gloved finger into your anus to feel for any lumps or swelling
- anal Pap test (also called anal Pap smear) – a small brush or spatula is inserted into the anus to collect some cells; the cells are examined under a microscope in a laboratory to check for abnormalities
- high-resolution anoscopy – a short instrument is inserted into the anus to create detailed images of the anal canal.
The HPV vaccine
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of anal cancer. Gardasil, a vaccine that protects against the most common types of HPV that cause cancer, is currently provided free of charge to Australian girls and boys in their first year of high school. The vaccination program should help lower rates of HPV-related cancers, but it will be some decades before that happens. The vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV, so it will not prevent all HPV-related cancers.
The HPV vaccine works best if given before exposure to HPV, that is, before a person becomes sexually active. However, it may still provide some benefit once a person is sexually active. Talk to your doctor about whether you or your partner/s should consider having the HPV vaccine.
You can find out more about HPV and anal cancer at analcancerfoundation.org.