If you are diagnosed with anal cancer, the treatment or treatments are recommended depends on the stage of your cancer, your health, and your personal needs or health goals. At Columbia Cancer, we work with you to find the best treatment plan especially for you. Your team of experts includes radiation oncologists, colorectal surgeons, medical oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, clinical trial specialists, and more. We work together to provide you with the most comprehensive and coordinated care possible so you have less to worry about.
If anal cancer has not spread to other areas of the body, your care team may recommend radiation therapy, a treatment using high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells. For anal cancer, radiation therapy is often given with chemotherapy (medication), called chemoradiation. Combining these two treatments weakens the cancer and makes the radiation therapy more effective. Our radiation oncologists at Columbia Cancer are experts in targeted radiation therapy to minimize damage to healthy tissue.
Our radiation oncologists are world-leaders in the use of intensity-modulated radiation therapy, which helps to precisely shape radiation treatments to target tumors while minimizing damage to healthy tissue. This helps to reduce any side effects and optimize treatment of tumors. Advanced image-guidance also helps to make radiation therapy even more precise, which can give you the best possible outcome.
Surgery is usually not the main treatment for anal cancer but could be recommended depending on the stage and location of your tumor. Your care team may discuss surgery with you in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Our surgeons are experts in minimally invasive robotic surgical techniques, which can give you a faster recovery time, less side effects, and a better outcome.
There are two main types of surgery for anal cancer, called local resection and abdominoperineal resection.
Your care team may recommend a local resection if your tumor is small and has not spread to other parts of the body. A surgeon will remove the tumor and a small amount of healthy tissue around it to make sure all the cancer cells are gone. Because they are small, these tumors can often be removed without any impacts on your ability to have normal bowel movements. If bowel movement function is temporarily altered, our expert team will work with you to get you back to your normal bowel function as soon as possible.
If anal cancer does not respond to radiation or chemotherapy or if it comes back after treatment, your doctor may recommend an abdominoperineal resection (APR). During this procedure, a surgeon removes the anus, rectum, and bottom part of the colon, and sometimes the nearby lymph nodes if the cancer has spread. The surgeon attaches the remaining portion of the colon to an opening in your abdomen (called a stoma), from which waste will leave your body and collect in a colostomy bag.
Our surgeons are experts in minimally invasive techniques that lead to faster and less painful recoveries and less complications after surgery. At Columbia Cancer, we have a team of highly experienced ostomy nurses who will provide you and your family support before, during, and after your treatment.
Chemotherapy is a medication that kills fast-growing cells like cancer cells. For anal cancer, chemotherapy is often given in combination with radiation therapy or surgery. Combining these therapies can weaken the cancer cells so that the therapies work better. Your care team will customize your chemotherapy based on unique genetic information of your tumor in order to find the most effective treatment with the least side effects for you.
Immunotherapy works by using the power of your own immune system to fight cancer. Recently, doctors have found that a type of immunotherapy called checkpoint inhibitors can be effective in treating anal cancer that is metastatic, or has spread to other parts of the body. These medications work by ‘taking the brakes off’ of the immune system, allowing it to recognize and attack invading cancer cells. Additional research into promising new immunotherapies for anal cancer is ongoing, and Columbia Cancer offers clinical trials for immunotherapy. You can speak with your doctor about whether immunotherapy or a clinical trial may be right for you.
We are leaders in immunotherapy and targeted therapies, offering a wide range of clinical trials that give our patients access to these new therapies, before they are widely available.