by Abigail Boston, RN, The Project Nurse Care Manager, Stephanie Fountas, RN, The Project Clinical Services Manager
Anal Cancer Awareness Day takes place on March 21, providing an opportunity to highlight crucial information about anal cancer screenings. We’ve gathered answers to common questions about anal cancer, including who is most at risk and ways it can be prevented!
Who is most at risk for anal cancer?
In general, people who are at higher risk for anal cancer include:
- Men who have sex with men (MSM)
- Trans men and women
- People who are living with HIV
- Women who have had cervical paps and are positive for Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Men who have had a previous anal pap and tested positive for HPV
Over 90% of anal cancer cases are the result of HPV.
What does that mean for me if I am living with HIV?
Anal cancer is the fourth most common cancer for people living with HIV and is diagnosed at younger ages for men and women with HIV than for the general public. This means early screening is essential to catch concerns sooner, allowing for fast treatment.
Your care team at The Project has reviewed best practices and recommends that MSM living with HIV age 35 or older and women of all ages living with HIV and a history of HPV begin routine screenings for anal cancer with an anal pap.
And if I am not living with HIV?
Talk to your medical provider about if an anal pap is important for your patient specific care plan!
What is an anal pap?
Glad you asked! An anal pap is a minimally invasive, routine test that can be done at any medical provider visit. Your medical provider will use a cotton swab to collect cells around the anus, which are then sent to a lab and inspected for inflammation, infection, and changes that could lead to cancer. If any of these cells, sometimes called pre-cancerous cells, are present, your medical team will help you get connected with a specialist for additional testing and care planning.
How can I prevent anal cancer?
The best way to help prevent anal cancer is to get the HPV vaccine. However, the vaccine is only effective when completed before exposure to HPV, so we recommend getting it before age 26. If you are between the ages of 27-45, ask your medical provider if there is a benefit for you to have the HPV vaccine.
In addition to the HPV vaccine, lifestyle changes can also help prevent anal cancer. Such as:
- Not smoking
- Adhering to HIV treatment to ensure a strong immune system
- Using protective barriers during sexual contact (stop by The Project if you ever need a supply of condoms, dental dams, or lube for healthier sex!)
So, what now?
Don’t just take our word for it, talk with your provider about anal paps, when and how often to test, and preventative steps that make sense for you to lower your risk for anal cancer. If you are currently a patient with The Project, reach out to your Nurse Care Manager about scheduling your anal cancer screening! For more information, visit cdc.gov, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, and cancer.gov