Anal cancer diagnoses, deaths have risen dramatically among Americans

HOUSTON — Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STD, and contracting it also puts one at a much greater risk of developing anal cancer. In fact, nearly 90% of all anal cancers are caused by HPV. Anal cancer doesn’t get nearly as much attention as other forms of cancer, but an unsettling new study finds that more and more Americans are being diagnosed with the disease each year.

New anal cancer diagnoses and deaths related to HPV have risen dramatically over the past 15 years, according to new research recently conducted at the University of Texas, Houston. After comparing national trends in squamous cell carcinoma (HPV-caused anal cancer) cases by stage at diagnosis, year of birth, and mortality, researchers discovered that both anal cancer diagnoses, especially advanced stage cases, and death rates have doubled among Americans in their 50s and 60s.

Additionally, diagnoses among African American men born after the mid 1980s have increased by five times in comparison to those born in the mid 1940s. Elderly caucasian women are also being diagnosed at particularly higher rates.

“Given the historical perception that anal cancer is rare, it is often neglected. Our findings of the dramatic rise in incidence among black millennials and white women, rising rates of distant-stage disease, and increases in anal cancer mortality rates are very concerning,” says lead study author Ashish A. Deshmukh, PhD, MPH, in a release.

It’s worth mentioning that anal cancer is not the same as colon or rectal cancer, because of the cells involved and where the cancer actually develops in the body. In the majority of cases, a late stage anal cancer diagnosis almost assuredly means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, significantly lowering one’s chance of survival.

To come to their conclusions, the research team looked over data collected from all U.S. cancer registries. They found 68,809 cases of anal cancer and 12,111 deaths between 2001-2016. Shockingly, anal cancer rates and mortality have increased by nearly 3% each year, making it one of fastest rising causes of cancer incidence and death.

HPV is easily preventable through vaccination, but 50% of Americans have never been vaccinated. Setting the stage, according to the study’s authors, for increased anal cancer rates in the future.

“Screening for anal cancer is not currently performed, except in certain high-risk groups, and the results of this study suggest that evaluation of broader screening efforts should be considered,” says senior author Dr. Keith Sigel.

“It is concerning that over 75% of U.S. adults do not know that HPV causes this preventable cancer. Educational campaigns are needed to increase awareness about the rising rates of anal cancer and importance of immunization,” Dr. Deshmukh concludes.

The study is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.