Anal cancer

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Research in anal cancer

We are always learning more about cancer. Researchers and healthcare professionals use what they learn from research studies to develop better practices that will help prevent, find and treat anal cancer.

The following is a selection of research showing promise for anal cancer. We’ve included information from PubMed, which is the research database of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Each research article in PubMed has an identity number (called a PMID) that links to a brief overview (called an abstract). Information about ongoing clinical trials in Canada comes from the Canadian Cancer Trials website or Clinical trials are given an NLM identifier called a national clinical trial (NCT) number.

Reducing the risk of anal cancer

Researchers are looking for ways to reduce the risk of anal cancer by treating precancerous changes of the anus (, NCT02135419).

Find out more about research in reducing the risk of cancer.

Finding anal cancer early

Researchers are looking for ways to find anal cancer early, before you notice any signs or symptoms. When cancer is found and treated early, the chances of successful treatment are better. The following is noteworthy research into finding anal cancer early.

Anal cancer screening in some groups of people who have a high risk may help find precancerous changes or anal cancer early (International Journal of STD & AIDS, PMID 23970583; Journal of Lower Genital Tract Disease, PMID 26103446).

High-resolution anoscopy(HRA) may be helpful for HIV-positive men who have a high risk for anal cancer. It may be a way to find precancerous conditions or anal cancer early and follow up with these men (AIDS, PMID 24441516). A study has shown that using HRA in follow-up for people with anal cancer will lower the chances that anal cancer will come back in any area in the anus (European Journal of Cancer Care, PMID 24373061).

Find out more about research in screening and finding cancer early.

Diagnosis and prognosis

A key area of research looks at better ways to diagnose and stage anal cancer. Researchers are also trying to find ways to help doctors predict a prognosis (the probability that the cancer can be successfully treated or that it will come back after treatment). The following is noteworthy research into diagnosis and prognosis.

Combined PET-CT scan can help doctors accurately stage anal cancer and plan treatment (International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics, PMID 22592047; Annals of Surgical Oncology, PMID 25652048).

Sentinel lymph node biopsy may be a way to accurately diagnose anal carcinoma that has spread to lymph nodes in the groin (called the inguinal lymph nodes). Anal carcinoma that has spread to lymph nodes has a poor prognosis. It is usually treated with radiation therapy to the groin. If doctors know that anal cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes, they can avoid unnecessary radiation to the groin (International Journal of Surgery, PMID 23872032).

HIV-positive people with anal carcinoma have a higher risk that the cancer will recur than HIV-negative people with anal carcinoma (Journal of Gastrointestinal Cancer, PMID 24014082).

PET scan is a nuclear imaging test. It may help doctors predict the prognosis for people with anal cancer who are treated with chemoradiation (British Journal of Cancer, PMID 21792197). Find out more about positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

Find out more about research in diagnosis and prognosis.


Researchers are looking for new ways to improve the treatment of anal cancer. Advances in cancer treatment and new ways to manage the side effects related to treatment have improved the outlook and quality of life for many people with cancer. The following is noteworthy research into treatment for anal cancer.

Gluteal fold flap (GFF) is a special tissue flap that surgeons use in reconstructive surgery. A recent study showed that surgeons can use this new technique to rebuild the perineal area after anal cancer surgery (Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery: JPRAS, PMID 23490978).

Local excision may be used to treat localized anal cancer. A study showed that local excision to remove anal cancer followed by chemoradiation does not seem to have any benefit when compared to chemoradiation alone (Anticancer Research, PMID 24023357).

Salvage surgery may be done to remove cancer that still remains after chemoradiation is used as the main treatment. Research has shown that salvage surgery improved long-term survival (Colorectal Disease, PMID 23522325).

Prophylactic inguinal radiation means that radiation therapy is given to lymph nodes in the groin (called the inguinal lymph nodes) before cancer is found in them. Studies to date have shown that it can prevent a recurrence of anal cancer in these lymph nodes and should be recommended for T3 and T4 tumours. Prophylactic inguinal radiation may also help prevent some early stage anal cancers from recurring in the inguinal lymph nodes (Diseases of the Colon and Rectum, PMID 24819097).

Chemoradiation regimens for HIV-positive people is an area of research for anal cancer. Researchers are trying to find the most effective and safest regimens. Many studies show that people who are HIV positive can receive the same treatment as HIV-negative people. People in these 2 groups seem to cope with chemoradiation and its side effects in the same way (Diseases of the Colon and Rectum, PMID 24608297).

Find out more about research in cancer surgery, research in chemotherapy and research in radiation therapy.

Learn more about cancer research

Researchers continue to try to find out more about anal cancer. Clinical trials are research studies that test new ways to prevent, detect, treat or manage anal cancer. Clinical trials provide information about the safety and effectiveness of new approaches to see if they should become widely available. Most of the standard treatments for anal cancer were first shown to be effective through clinical trials.

Find out more about cancer research and clinical trials.


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