The anus, which is also known as the “anal canal” is the tube connecting the lower end of the rectum with the outside of the body to allow the excretion of faeces. It is about 3 cm long and is surrounded by muscles - known as the anal sphincter- to keep it tightly closed most of the time.
Anal cancers arise from the types of cells lining the anal canal, known as “squamous cell carcinomas”. Cells that are becoming malignant but have not yet broken through the surface layer are referred to as “anal intraepithelial neoplasia (AIN)”, “high grade dysplasia”, “Bowens Disease” or “carcinoma in-situ”.
Anal cancer is very rare and affects a slightly more women than men. The main risk factor for anal cancer is infection from the human papilloma virus (HPV). Other factors include smoking and impaired immunity from causes such as HIV or immune suppressing drugs following organ transplant. The risk of contracting the disease increases with age.
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Cynthia Marks. January 2012