Know the difference and the signs to prevent anal and rectal cancers

Buddy Check 7
Updated: Mar. 7, 2023 at 4:00 PM CST
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STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) – Some birthdays come with identifiable milestones: at age 16, you can get a driver’s license; at 18, you can vote and become a legal adult. Age 45 is the year most people are recommended to get a colonoscopy.

It is a procedure that peers up the digestive tract to check for various cancers and other issues. In our January addition of Buddy Check 7, we told you about the importance of colon cancer screenings. Now, we are focusing on parts further down the tract to the rectum and anus.

The two are only about an inch, to an inch and a half a part, but Dr. Santosh Gowda said the cancers and risk factors are different.

“The first thing is like anal cancers are rare,” he explained. “The lifetime risk of developing lung cancer is one in 500, whereas the lifetime risk of developing rectal cancer is one in 25.”

He said anal cancer behaves more like a genital cancer. The biggest risk factor is if someone contracts the human paillomavirus, often referred to as HPV. Dr. Gowda stated about 90% of anal cancers are caused by HPV.

“So, it’s a sexually transmitted diseases usually seen in people who have receptive oral intercourse who have anal warts, you know, they have and risks are people with other cancers like cervical cancer, or penile cancer, or vaginal cancer.”

Smoking, taking immunosuppressants, or taking chronic steroids also are risk factors.

On the other hand, he said having Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis increase the risks of developing colorectal cancer.

“The other way they differ is mostly the anal cancer is treated with radiation and chemotherapy together, for most part of it localized one. Rectal cancer, in the initial stages, surgery alone can be used to treat rectal cancer, and if it’s progressed a little bit more than chemotherapy radiation is used.”

Anal cancer cells have less of a risk of moving to other parts of the body beyond the immediate areas surrounding the anus. Rectal cancer cells have more access and can move more easily to other systems.

Dr. Gowda urged, however, a positive commonality.

“If you’re diagnosed at an early stage, the chances of beating this cancer is excellent.”

That means getting a colonoscopy starting at age 45, unless you have a family history, where you likely will be recommended to screen earlier. Also, he said look out for any concerning signs that there could be something wrong.

“It is very important that you take things seriously and don’t disregard symptoms, especially if there’s a rectal bleeding. People always think like, ‘oh, maybe it’s hemorrhoids,’ you know, so take it seriously and see your doctor and get an examination done.”

Since this is part of the digestive tract, what goes down directly impacts the health of that system. He said eating vegetables and fruits, and limiting red meat, processed foods, and alcohol all have significant impacts on keeping those parts functioning properly. He added eating right, exercising, and maintaining a weight that is proportionate to your height can reduce the risk of you getting any cancer by about 30%.