Physical Health Services
Anal Cancer Screening
What is anal cancer?
Anal cancer may develop slowly over a period of years. It is one of the most common HIV-associated cancers in gay men. Anal cancer occurs mainly in two places: in the anal canal where the anus meets the rectum, and in the skin just outside of the anal opening. Anal cancer starts as a pre-cancerous condition called anal dysplasia.
What causes anal cancer?
Anal cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common virus which can be transmitted sexually. Some HPV types cause warts. Other HPV types cause anal and cervical cancer. Anal cancer can occur at any stage of HIV disease but pre-cancerous changes are more likely at lower CD4+ cell counts.
What are the risks for anal cancer?
It occurs in men and even more commonly in women.
Risk factors include:
- Anal receptive intercourse (“bottoming”)
- HIV infection
- Cervical cancer in women
- Cigarette smoking
- Multiple sex partners
Regular medical check-ups with anal examinations by your doctor will help detect early cancers.
Anal Pap smears: cells are collected from a swab that was inserted in the anus. Anal pap smears are available as a walk-in self-test at HQ for those who are eligible.
Digital anal exam: your doctor places a gloved finger in the anal canal to feel for lumps. If a lump or other abnormality is seen in the anal canal you may need a biopsy to rule out cancer.
Routine anoscopy is a visual examination of the anal canal using an anoscope with a bright light.
High resolution Anoscopy
High-resolution anoscopy (HRA) uses a magnifier to provide more detailed views. HRA is an available service at HQ for those who are eligible, by appointment.