Warning signs for rare cancer could be mistaken for piles, says expert

While we’re all guilty of catastrophising after reading too far into certain symptoms, it might not always be a bad thing.

In fact, experts are warning that symptoms that mirror those of piles and haemorroids might be an indication of a rare type of cancer: anal cancer.

While anal cancer is not one of the UK’s 20 most common cancer types, currently affecting only 1% of the population, it may still require invasive treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery, which could lead to a stoma bag. 

It’s most common in people aged 80–84 – but can strike at any age. 

Common symptoms of anal cancer:

  • Bowel incontinence.
  • Needing to use the toilet more frequently.
  • Looser, runnier stools.
  • Blood in your stools.
  • Itching or pain around the anus.
  • Small lumps around and inside the bottom
  • Discharge of mucus from the bottom.

Dr Pavel Vitek, a leading radiation oncologist from Proton Therapy Center in Prague, said: ‘Anal cancer is one of the rarer types in the UK, with around 1,500 new cases each year.

‘Its symptoms can often be mistaken for more common and less serious illnesses such as piles and haemorrhoids, but it should not be taken lightly.

‘Common red flags include needing to visit the toilet more often with looser, runnier stools and finding blood, itching or pain around the anus.’

According to the NHS website, other symptoms may include small lumps around and inside the bottom, and a discharge of mucus from the bottom.

‘It’s important not to let embarrassment prevent you from seeking treatment as earlier detection often leads to a better health outcome,’ Dr Pavel adds.

And it seems there are advancements on how the cancer is being treated, too.

Recently, a study has shown that a new treatment – proton beam therapy – is effective with reduced side effects. 

Researchers took 39 patients being treated for cancer of the anus at either initial or advanced stages and gave them up to five weeks of proton chemoradiotherapy.

Results showed 92% of those treated achieved complete regression with a favourably low rate of colostomy.

Study co-author Dr Pavel said: ‘This new study gives us cause to be optimistic that proton beam therapy can be considered a kinder and effective treatment option to sufferers of anal cancer compared to some more traditional plans.

‘Proton beam therapy allows us to target tumours and leave healthy tissue unaffected, and this often leads to better health outcomes for patients.

‘The study has also indicated that it can help reduce acute toxicity and the need for a colostomy, in turn improving patients’ quality of life post-treatment.

‘While further research is needed, proton beam therapy’s potential to give patients better health outcomes than traditional methods continues to give us cause for optimism.’

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