Mayo Clinic's experienced team of doctors and health care professionals includes digestive disease specialists (gastroenterologists), medical and radiation oncologists, radiologists, surgeons and pathologists.
Most patients with anal cancer can have their cancer treated successfully with a combination of external beam radiation therapy and anticancer drugs known as chemotherapy. Preserving function of the anal sphincter muscles (ring-shaped muscles surrounding the opening) is one potential advantage of using a combination of therapies. The length of radiation therapy and type of chemotherapy depend on the specifics of each case.
Chemotherapy is drug treatment to kill cancer cells. Some chemotherapy drugs work because they kill any rapidly dividing cells, and many cancer cells grow and multiply more rapidly than normal cells. Other chemotherapy drugs attack cancer cells by targeting specific differences between cancer cells and normal cells (targeted therapies).
The goal of radiation therapy is to destroy cancer cells while minimizing the damage to surrounding tissue. An external beam therapy known as intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) uses precisely shaped radiation beams to accurately deliver high-dose treatment. IMRT yields positive outcomes with fewer side effects than older forms of external radiation therapy.
Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) delivers a concentrated beam of radiation to cancerous tumors while they are exposed during surgery. This technique allows doctors to administer high doses of radiation to tumors while sparing nearby healthy organs from radiation. IORT is still considered experimental in the treatment of anal cancer. Mayo Clinic's IORT program, which began in 1981, is one of the world's largest.
Surgical removal of the cancer is performed only when radiation and chemotherapy are not completely effective. Surgeons use several techniques to remove the cancer.
The surgeon may remove the cancer and a small amount of adjacent healthy tissue (local resection). This procedure can often be used when doctors diagnose the cancer early. If more extensive surgery is needed, an abdominoperineal resection (APR) may be done. During this procedure, the surgeon removes the anus and the lower part of the rectum and creates an opening (stoma) on the outside of the body to pass waste. This is known as a colostomy.
Mayo Clinic's Cancer Education Center offers education and support for cancer patients and their families and friends.