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Anal Cancer Risks and Prevention

A risk factor is a characteristic that can make someone more likely to develop a disease. Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get cancer. However, risk factors may increase your chances.

There are different types of risk factors. Some, like age and family history, cannot be prevented. Others, like smoking, can be prevented with lifestyle choices.

Anal Cancer Risk Factors

Several factors can affect your risk of anal cancer including:

  • Age. Anal cancer is most often diagnosed in people over 50 years old, but young people with HIV may also be at risk for anal cancer.
  • Anal intercourse. People who participate in unprotected anal sex are at an increased risk.
  • Being infected with HPV. Anal cancer is also associated with the human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus causes warts, also called condyloma, in and around the anus and on the cervix in women. HPV is also associated with an increased risk for cervical cancer.
  • Chronic local inflammation. People with long-standing fistulas, open wounds, redness, swelling or soreness around the anus may be at an increased risk.
  • Having many sexual partners. People who have many sexual partners who engage in anal intercourse are at an increased risk for anal cancer.
  • Immunosuppression. People with weakened immune systems, such as those who take certain drugs or have HIV, are at an increased risk.
  • Smoking. Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of developing anal cancer.

Anal Cancer Prevention

While cancer cannot be totally prevented, your risk for anal cancer may decrease significantly with preventative measures. Currently, there are no recommendations for screening the general public for anal cancer (such as mammograms for breast cancer or colonoscopies for colon cancer). However, if you feel you are at risk, you may benefit from consulting with a risk assessment specialist within Penn Medicine's Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk Evaluation Program.

Additional preventive measures include:

  • Avoid unprotected anal intercourse.
  • Quit smoking. Quitting smoking or chewing tobacco can decrease the risk of developing cancer. Patients can get help to stop smoking through Penn Medicine's Lung Center or through a smoking cessation research program at the Abramson Cancer Center.
  • Use condoms to prevent HIV or HPV infection.