Anal cancer is not something people talk about easily, but getting rid of the embarrassment around the disease could make it less deadly.

People diagnosed with cancers in the anus have high survival rates if the disease is caught early. However, their intimate location on our bodies, and thus their association with both sex and bowel movements, may make people reluctant to discuss the topic even with their doctors. And unlike many other cancers, there is a dearth of celebrities or otherwise influential figures who have come forward with a diagnosis — for many, actress Farrah Fawcett’s death by anal cancer in 2009 was both the first and last time they heard about the disease.

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Cancer can occur in pretty much any body part, and the anus, which is the end point of the digestive system through which stool finally leaves the body, is no exception. It’s possible to develop a tumor in the skin around the outside of the anus, but that is considered skin cancer. Anal cancer is when the disease occurs in the anus itself. According to the National Cancer Institute, signs of the rare cancer include bleeding, pain, pressure, itching or discharge from the anus. It can also create a lump near the anus or change bowel habits.

Anal tumors can form in many different ways, the American Cancer Society says, because there are lots of different kinds of cells in the anus. Most cancers in that body part, however, start in the cells of the anal canal’s inner lining, which is called the mucosa. Cancer can also form in the anal glands underneath the mucosa that make the lubricating fluid that helps us poop.

Although anal cancer is much more rare than colon or rectal cancer, newly affecting about 8,000 Americans this year, according to ACS estimates, “the number of new anal cancer cases has been rising for many years.” The earlier the cancer is detected, the better: The organization lists five-year survival rates between about 60 and 70 percent, depending on the type of cancer, when it is caught at its earliest, but those rates drop off rapidly as the stages progress. End-stage anal cancer has a five-year survival rate between 7 and 21 percent.

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Certain people should be on the lookout for anal cancer more than others. The National Cancer Institute said being infected with human papillomavirus increases the risk of developing the disease, which is crucial given how common that sexually transmitted disease is: “HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say. It is also a culprit in other conditions, like cervical cancer.

Other risk factors include having a lot of sexual partners, having anal intercourse, being older than 50, smoking cigarettes, and frequent irritation in the anus, including redness, swelling and soreness. The Mayo Clinic adds that people with reproductive cancers like in the cervix or vagina are at an increased risk of anal cancer, as are people who have weakened immune systems.

See also:

6 Cancers Of Female Reproductive Organs

3 Cancers of Male Reproductive Organs