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Anal Cancer: Early Detection


The American Cancer Society suggests that people over the age of 50 have a digital rectal exam (DRE) every year.

A digital rectal exam (DRE) may be used to screen for anal cancer.

Screening tests are done to check for diseases in people who don’t have symptoms. There are screening tests available to check for anal cancer in people who may be at increased risk. It’s easier to treat anal cancer if it is found early.

One type of test is the digital rectal exam (DRE). During a DRE, your healthcare provider puts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum. He or she feels for hard or lumpy areas. This isn’t just done to check for anal cancer. It also may be used to check for prostate cancer in men and rectal cancer in both men and women.

Your healthcare provider may also recommend anal cytology, often called an anal Pap test. This is like the screening test women have for cervical cancer.

Your healthcare provider may suggest screening for anal cancer in these cases:

  • Men who have sex with men

  • Women with a history of cervical, vaginal, or vulvar cancer

  • Men or women who are human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) positive

  • All people who have had transplants

Some experts also say that anyone with a history of anal warts should be screened for anal cancer.

If testing shows abnormal cells under a microscope, your healthcare provider will refer you for a biopsy. This is when a small piece of the area is removed. Then a healthcare provider looks at it closely to see if there are cancer cells in it.

There are no recommendations on how often screening should be done at this time. There is also no research showing that screening can help healthcare providers find and treat cell changes early to reduce anal cancer risk. Still, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about your anal cancer risk. Ask if you need screening tests.

Online Medical Reviewer: Gersten, Todd, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2016
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.