Farrah Fawcett first broke into show biz in the late 60s, guest-starring on a number of TV shows. Her big break came in 1976 when she was hired to star as Jill Munroe on Charley’s Angels. Although Fawcett became tremendously popular with fans as a result of the series, she left to pursue more serious work in films. She continued to make films through 2003, some successful, some not.
In September 2006, the 62-year-old Fawcett made headlines again, this time, unfortunately for her diagnosis of anal cancer. Despite a series of treatments in the US and Germany, which initially led to remission, earlier this year, the cancer was found to have spread to her liver.
Why haven’t most folks heard little about anal cancer?
Anal cancer is a relatively rare disease, accounting for only 4% of all cancers of the lower alimentary canal. It is a cancer that occurs at the end of the alimentary system, where the stool leaves the body. In 2008, 5070 new cases of anal cancer were diagnosed and there were 680 deaths from the disease. But overall, the risk for the disease is increasing.
What are the risk factors for anal cancer?
Risk factors include:
Having HPV (human papilloma virus) infection, the same virus that is implicated in cervical cancer.
Being older than age 50
Having numerous sex partners
Having receptive anal sex (for both men and women), particularly under the age of 30
Having frequent redness, swelling, or soreness around the anus
Having impaired immunity or HIV infection.
How many types of anal cancer are there?
There are four types of anal cancer, but the vast majority are either squamous cell carcinomas or basaloid transition cell carcinomas. Both of these types are strongly associated with human papilloma virus infection. The two remaining variants – adenocarcinomas and melanomas – are rare.
What are the symptoms of anal cancer?
Bleeding or other discharge from the anus
Pain, pressure, or a lump around the anus
Change in bowel habits.
How is anal cancer diagnosed?
If you have risk factors for anal cancer or any of the symptoms above, of course, see your doctor. Your doctor will perform a physical examination, a digital rectal examination, and, depending on the findings, possibly anoscopy, proctoscopy, an endo-anal or endorectal ultrasound, or biopsy. It may sound uncomfortable or embarrassing, but if you have anal cancer, you want to be diagnosed early.
What are the treatment options for anal cancer patients?
The treatment of choice is typically local surgery, radiation, or radiation plus chemotherapy, which can yield a 5-year survival rate of more than 70% and low levels of side effects. In more severe cases, surgery, involving a colostomy, may be required.
The severity of any cancer is defined by the stage, which depends on the extent of the growth and distribution of the disease through the body. Patients with stage II, III, IV, or V anal cancer might want to consider participating in a clinical trial.
Information about ongoing clinical trials can be found at the National Cancer Institute’s Website (http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials).
The good news is that anal cancer, found early, is usually curable.