On Sunday 21 March 2021, it was Anal Cancer Awareness Day. This day aims to raise awareness about this not-often talked about form of cancer. It also aims to break down the stigma associated with anal cancer.
In the general population, anal cancer is relatively rare – however it is much more common in men who have sex with men (MSM), people with HIV and women.
So what can we all do to protect ourselves? If anal cancer is detected early, the chances of treatment being successful are much higher – this is why engaging in protective health behaviours is so important.
Digital Ano-rectal Exams (DAREs)
There is growing evidence to support individuals’ conducting a digital ano-rectal exam (DARE) as a part of their regular health check-up. A DARE is a brief, painless examination of your anus with a finger and can be done by yourself, a partner or your doctor to screen for any anal changes. For information on how to conduct a DARE, please click here.
Not all doctors are familiar with HPV or anal cancer concerns in relation to people living with HIV, so when you raise the subject with them, they might take a little time to get up to speed on the topic.
Research indicates that there are several reasons for the increased risk within these populations, however, the biggest risk factor is a sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is very common in the general population, and most sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV strain throughout their lifetime.
Today, most young adults receive the HPV vaccination (Gardasil) in high school as part of their regular vaccination schedule. However, this has only been a recent addition, and a lot of people (25+) may not have received a vaccination. While it’s ideal to get vaccinated before becoming sexually active, the vaccine can still be effective in preventing cancer, even for sexually-active people. Research has shown that this vaccine is very safe and effective, with no serious side effects. It can also help protect from reinfection or against strains you haven’t already been exposed to.
If you would like to receive the Gardasil vaccination, please talk to your GP.
So what are the latest developments in anal cancer awareness/screening/treatment?
Currently, organisations around Australia are advocating at State and National levels regarding the screening, diagnosis and treatment pathways relating to anal cancer. QPP is a part of this advocacy and recognizes that in Queensland we now have a real opportunity and the dedication to address the significant risk of anal cancer within at-risk populations. This will be achieved through raising awareness of clinician and self-DAREs and innovative, translational research for early detection and screening through to service delivery. QPP will keep you updated regarding any future projects and collaborations that are happening in this space – Stay tuned!