Researchers examined trends in anal cancer cases over about 15 years, and identified about 69,000 cases of anal cancer and more than 12,000 deaths during this time.
“Our findings of the dramatic rise in incidence among black millennials and white women, rising rates of distant-stage disease, and increases in anal cancer mortality rates are very concerning,” the study’s lead author, Ashish A. Deshmukh, an assistant professor at UTHealth School of Public Health, said in a statement. “Given the historical perception that anal cancer is rare, it is often neglected.”
Distant stage disease is when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
From 2001 to 2015, cases of the most common type of anal cancer increased by 2.7% per year, while anal cancer death rates increased by 3.1% per year from 2001 to 2016.
The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, “gives numbers to a trend that seems to be happening over the last decade,” said Dr. Virginia Shaffer, a colorectal surgeon and associate professor in Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute. “In that sense it gives us numbers to what we were already expecting.” Shaffer was not involved in the study.
Cancer linked to HPV
Anal cancer occurs where the digestive tract ends. It is different from colon or rectal cancer and most similar to cervical cancer.
The most common subtype of anal cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, caused by human papillomavirus, known as HPV.
Who’s impacted by anal cancer?
The study found anal cancer cases have increased significantly in people aged 50 and older.
Anal cancer rates are also rising among young black men.
The study also found the number of advanced-stage cases is rising. This could partly be because treatment for HIV has improved, Shaffer said, which means patients are living longer with compromised immune systems, and cancer may have progressed further by the time it’s diagnosed.
There is still stigma around anal cancer.
“I know that there are people who are ashamed,” Cross told “CBS This Morning” in June. “You have cancer. Should you then also feel like ashamed like you did something bad because it took up residence in your anus?”
Anal cancer has become “pretty taboo,” Shaffer said, “I think because of some of the risk factors that have historically been known to be associated with it.
“If people are having symptoms they should see a doctor because I think a lot of people think, ‘Oh, well it’s just hemorrhoids,’ and don’t get things checked and that could potentially also mean that you don’t get diagnosed until much, much later.”
To strengthen prevention efforts going forward, Shaffer said all people who qualify to be vaccinated should do so, and that the current vaccine guidelines should be studied to determine whether they can be expanded to other patients.
CNN’s Michael Nedelman, Lisa Respers France and Sandee LaMotte contributed to this report.